'Secret Garden' brings 2 shows with a cast of 53 youngsters to Los Banos

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJuly 20, 2013 

— Missoula Children's Theatre has been preparing all week to show Los Banos what can be done with good teaching, a simple script and more than 50 motivated youngsters.

Directors Rachel Meyer and Ricky Vanelli are on their fifth of nine stops on the Missoula, Mont., company's West Coast tour. The pair have been preparing 53 children for a performance of "The Secret Garden" today in the Ted Falasco Arts Center.

"They are a very, very smart cast. We're excited about them," Meyer said. "They work so hard when they come here."

Missoula uses children in first through 12th grade for its plays. The weeklong rehearsals begin with the cast separated by roles and age. Toward the end of the week, the cast rehearses together and musical numbers are incorporated.

The directors try to teach the children different and sometimes unorthodox acting methods. Tuesday after rehearsing their lines in a straightforward manner, the children were asked to act out the play as if it were being performed by zombies.

"We make sure they're having fun, but they're also here to learn a lot. I always want to keep them engaged," Vanelli said.

Meyer said children get bored doing the same thing repeatedly.

The cast is just shy of the 60 members that it typically has, according to Meyer, but it will not affect the production. She said she has visited some cities where too many children audition and some are turned away.

Meyer and Vanelli said they are confident that the children will be ready by the time they hit the stage this afternoon.

Missoula Children's Theatre's version of "The Secret Garden" is the story of Mistress Mary Quite Contrary traveling from India to her uncle's home in England. Along the way, she makes friends with Canada geese and giant bugs and other creatures, learning to appreciate everything around her.

"The Secret Garden" will be performed at 3 and 5:30 p.m. today in the Ted Falasco Arts Center, 1105 Fifth St. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

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