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100-plus try out for ‘Crusoe’ play

Exactly 130 children from the Brookhaven and Lincoln County areagathered in the Lipsey School gymnasium Monday to audition for apart in The Missoula Children Theater’s production of “The AmazingAdventures of Robinson Crusoe.”

After a short introduction and discussion of the week ahead, twoTADs (tour actor/directors), the lone representatives fromMissoula, organized the auditionees into a box formation along thelines of the basketball court that stretched from basket to basket.As soon as the lines were formed, the husband and wife TAD team ofL. Chad and Stephanie Simmons began the two-hour auditions.

“We have a system that has been refined over the past threedecades by our company,” Chad Simmons said. “While we have themlined up around the floor, we’ll move pretty quickly, alwayskeeping the attention on Stephanie and I. We want as little downtime as possible, because if they have a chance to goof off, theywill.”

The first task for the auditionees was to line up according toheight and sound off by number.

While this may have seemed like simply an organizational task,in truth the audition was already under way. Even the manner inwhich the children sounded off was being noticed.

“We’re looking for three big things,” Simmons said. “We’relooking for big bodies, big voices and the ability to followdirections. When I say big bodies, I don’t mean physically – I meanbig body expression.”

While some children in the massive line shouted their name andnumber, even adding their own style and body movements, others hadto be coaxed into unleashing volume. Timidness may seem as though abad quality when auditioning for a play, but Simmons said shychildren could become valuable cast members.

“Sometimes, the shy kids are the ones that benefit the most fromthis experience,” he said. “Usually, after a few minutes, they comearound and realize that no one is going to bite them. They figureout that this is nothing scary, nothing to freak out about.”

Coming to that realization is the primary goal of Missoula.

“Our goal for this week is not to create a bunch of littleactors,” Simmons said. “I mean, we’re gonna practice hard and puton the play, and a bunch of the kids end up really grasping it andturning into great performers, then that’s great. But what we’rereally all about is making these kids realize that if you workhard, the results will be worth it.”

He referred to the company’s mission statement to enrichchildren’s lives through participation in the arts.”

“What we’re doing has direct correlations to school and life. Wewant these kids to remember, ‘Well, I tried really hard for theplay, and people clapped for me, so maybe I can have success if Ialso try my best at math or my science project,'” Simmons said.

The life lessons began immediately for the 130 assembledchildren, ages 5 to 16, as the Simmonses hammered home what wasexpected of them, starting right then and there – commitment.

Once auditions began in earnest, the Simmonses had the childrenrepeat lines, sing a song en masse and even put groups throughdance routines. This was part of Missoula’s “refined method,” andit was working fast for the TADs. At the half way point of theauditions, the Simmonses said they “had their eyes” on a fewprospects, but it was still at least half an hour before any nameswould be taken.

Parents and school officials hung around the edges of the gym tosee sons, daughters and students doing their stuff. Some of thoseparents were wise to the ways of theater.

“I’ve got a bazillion students in here,” said Brookhaven LittleTheatre’s Jana Russell, referring to her own repeat cast membersfrom Brookhaven’s community theater group, as well as her daughter,Johanna.

Russell was attending the auditions in an official capacity, asthe Brookhaven Arts Council’s co-chairwoman for the 2008 Missoulaevent. She and Lawana Latham, chairwoman of the council’s educationcommittee, will be involved with the Missoula production thisweek.

Practice for “The Amazing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” was setto begin Monday immediately following auditions. Rehearsals will beheld every night this week, and the play will performed twice onSaturday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.