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Precision is key, stagehands learn

MISSOULA CHILDREN'S THEATRE:

March 19, 2001|By JASON ZARA, Staff Writer

The lights go down, the music comes up and the actors take the stage.

Nearly 60 students from first to 12th grade took part in the Missoula Children's Theatre whirlwind production of "Treasure Island."

From auditions on Monday to performances on Friday and Saturday, the production is put together by two touring dramatists. But while the two teach the roles and lead the rehearsals, they play the lead roles and that means the actual direction of the play falls to six assistant directors.

"Basically, it's their show. They run it," said Eric Day, one of the producers. "Without them it's really difficult to make everyone do what they're supposed to do."

Day, 31, and Alanna Arthur, 25, auditioned nearly 120 students Monday afternoon, and by Monday evening the cast of nearly 60 was chosen and rehearsals were under way. While the obvious focus of a play is the actors, it is the behind-the-scenes workers who make it all possible.

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Lights and music serve as cues to the actors on stage. Rehearsals were in El Centro's Old Post Office Pavilion from Monday through Wednesday, so it wasn't until Thursday, one day before the first performance, that the assistant directors were able to work with the actual lights, sound equipment and stage.

Day spent much of the rehearsal Thursday shouting instructions: "Lighting effect. When the church bells ring, turn off the lighting.

"You've got to keep your hand on the spotlight. Don't let it go.

"Music louder, please."

By Friday, when two performances were staged for local students, everything seemed to work pretty smoothly.

Roxy Withers, a freshman at Southwest High School in El Centro, was the stage manager.

"I tell them to be quiet. I tell them when they're supposed to be on stage and I give them cues," she said of her role in keeping the actors in line. "In everything we do we have to be very precise."

Roxy said while she would have preferred to have been selected for a role in the play, she enjoyed directing.

"I love to be the center of attention, so it's kind of difficult (not being on stage)," she said. "It's all worth it."

Conrad Jutras, an eighth-grader at Seeley Elementary School, was a director for the second year in a row and he loved it.

"It's fun being a director because when you get older you can be a (movie) director and you'll know what to do," he said.

Conrad was in charge of the seagulls — 17 first-graders who not only had to come on and off stage at the right time but had to be kept quiet during the performance.

"They're really involved in this play. It's fun working with the first-graders," Conrad said.

Though not a director, McCabe Union Elementary School eighth-grader Diane Johnson had a key role in directing the actors on stage — she played the piano. Often the piano was the only cue for the actors in their movements on stage and in their singing, but Diane was unfazed.

"I think it's really fun. I like doing it," she said. "I don't get stage fright."

Joshua Knights, a ninth-grade home-schooler, was in charge of the lights. He had done lighting in a previous play and for his church. And while he said it is "not very hard," it is a "very important" job.

Sound was controlled by Calexico High School 10th-grader Wesley Anderson. While he said he would have liked to have gotten a part in the play, he enjoyed doing the sound as well.

"As long as you're having fun," he said.

Wesley hopes to act professionally some day, and he knows the importance of understanding sound and light and other behind-the-scenes activities.

"The two main directors are in the play so they need us out there doing stuff they'd normally do," he said, adding he learned a lot from Day and Arthur.

The Missoula Children's Theatre comes to Imperial County twice a year, in spring and fall. The performances are sponsored by the Imperial County Arts Council.

Staff Writer Jason Zara can be reached at 337-3451.

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