Darke County Center for the Arts’ annual residency by Missoula Children’s Theatre brought Lauren Butler and Brandon Alpert to our community for the first time last week; and they were impressed. “It’s beautiful here, the kids are really nice, Kitchen Aid Experience is awesome, and there’s so much we didn’t know about – like Annie Oakley and the Maid-Rite!” Lauren gushed. The acting/directing team had never traveled to Ohio prior to this summer, but like it so much that they might settle near Columbus when they’re done touring. But for now, travel is a vital contributor to the joy they feel in their jobs.
The young couple met while working for the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in Florida. Brandon was born and raised in Palo Alto, California, about 40 minutes east of Los Angeles. Although his mother was an opera singer and his father a professional violinist, the handsome young man says that he never felt pushed into music, but that he just always loved to sing. While a middle-schooler, Brandon won a role in a community theatre production of Beauty and the Beast and “gave up on his dream of becoming a sports color commentator and never looked back.”
Lauren grew up in Newport, a small town in upstate New York, living in a home where there was “a lot of music” She started singing while in pre-school; her first role in a musical was as Meriwether Lewis’s dog in a local production of The Adventures of Lewis and Clark. Never possessing much athletic skill, Lauren says that she “appreciated the opportunity to do something I was good at,” and eventually completed her Master’s degree in acting.
While still an undergraduate, she toured with Missoula Children’s Theatre, and found it “an awesome experience” to which she hoped to return, a desire that was realized in May, 2013. “We get to perform, teach, and travel; it’s the coolest job ever!” the attractive blonde enthused. Prior to the summer tour with Rapunzel, Lauren and Brandon spent “a great year” taking MCT’s The Secret Garden to schools ranging geographically from California to Saskatchewan.
Although they both enjoy acting, they revealed that this job that they so love is not meant for people only looking to advance their acting careers. “With Missoula, your main job is to teach, to put the kids first,” Lauren explained. MCT uses a proven system based on the concept of “show and tell” to train the people chosen to represent the company throughout the country, a concept that the team then uses in its interaction with the youngsters under their charge. “Kids are capable of so much!” Brandon said. But the team must look for very clear guideposts while choosing a cast, factors indicating an individual’s fitness for a particular role, a role that must be perfected in demanding rehearsals designed to form a cohesive performance in less than a week.
Rapunzel is a new show from MCT, never before performed in our region; and of course, the cleverly-scripted production has an overlying values-based theme. But Missoula Children’s Theatre provides more than a delightful and heartwarming show about treating others with kindness and respect. “Rapunzel is fun, full of bad puns and silly jokes, and throwing all sorts of fairy tale characters into the mix; but we’re really teaching kids how to accept responsibility, how to work as a team while maintaining your independence,” Lauren stated.
Brandon and Lauren believe that MCT’s benefits spread beyond the youngsters directly involved, affecting an entire community, “Getting people away from their screens to be in a play or to watch a play with other people provides a sense of community; everyone can benefit from enjoying a live performance,” Brandon said.
Missoula Children’s Theatre has once again benefitted our community by entertaining an appreciative audience with a show embracing traditional values while teaching participants self-confidence and self-control, enhancing self-images, improving interpersonal skills and sometimes even test scores. Or as MCT’s mission statement says it - by “teaching lifeskills through participation in the performing arts.”
Marilyn Delk is a Director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.