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Pacific edition, Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The cast was selected in just under two hours.

Monday’s open audition for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “Rumpelstiltskin” ended with screams of delight and tears of disappointment.

With a turnout of 77 kids and 58 parts to be handed out, not every child made the cut.

The directors stood firm by their decisions, even when parents made last-minute appeals to reconsider their son or daughter.

“If you don’t get a part today, please don’t be discouraged,” Brandon Johnson, co-directing the week’s production with his wife, Diandra Clevenger, told the children. “It just may be that we didn’t have the right part for you.”

It was a tough life lesson for some of the children, ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors. For those going on, the week would offer other lessons, from the importance of commitment and accountability to working as a team — or so the directors hope.

“It’s the development of life skills through performing arts,” said Clevenger, repeating Missoula Children’s Theatre’s mission statement.

Missoula Children’s Theatre is a tradition for Air Force bases in the Pacific. The theater group has worked with the U.S. military for two decades, according to its Web site, and annually visits Pacific bases. Clevenger and Johnson are in the fifth week of their Pacific tour, having visited Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Kadena Air Base on Okinawa; and Yokota Air Base and Camp Zama near Tokyo. Next week, it’s on to Osan Air Base in South Korea.

The directors work with the kids at each base for six days, overseeing auditions, rehearsals and the week’s culminating event — two public performances. They provide all the costumes, props, script and musical score, while selecting several students to help as assistant directors.

As Monday’s audition at Misawa unfolded in the Tohoku Enlisted Club Ballroom, the room was an energetic mix of giggles and nerves.

“I’m nervous just because the competition looks really hard,” said Ashley Williams, 10, who appeared in two previous Missoula Children’s Theatre productions.

The kids were grouped by age and individually had to repeat lines and act out various emotions.

“You’re going to say, ‘I’m not allowed to ride my bike at night,’” Johnson instructed. “We need to see some anger.”

As Johnson and Clevenger told the students, talent isn’t always the clincher. The directors want to see “loud and clear, big and expressive with body and face, and following directions,” Johnson said. “The secret bonus way is to have a positive attitude.”

Parry Draper, 14, and Jonah Davis, 13, were laid back about the whole thing. They weren’t nervous, they said, though they weren’t confident enough to say they would make it either. (They both did.)

“You never know,” said Parry, who played the giant in last year’s “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

If the kids weren’t nervous, their parents, watching in the audience, were.

“I try not to be nervous for her,” said Jade Schuler of daughter Alexa, 10, who participated in two previous Missoula productions. “It was an awesome experience. That’s why we keep coming back. It’s amazing what they do in one week.”

For the Schulers, the nerves were only just beginning. Alexa was cast as Rumpelstiltskin.

“Awesome, stupendous, oh my gosh,” she said when asked to describe how she was feeling. “I just wanted to make it. Last year, I wasn’t even close to the main character. I was a clown.”

Performance times

Children participating in the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “Rumpelstilt- skin” at Misawa Air Base will perform Saturday at the Mokuteki Community Center Ballroom at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The show is free.

The theater group directors will also lead an adult workshop on improvisation and community theater on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the community center.

Call DSN 226-4128 for more information.

author headshot
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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