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Wednesday, 18 December 2013 14:35

No secret, Ralston students excel at play production

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Robin Redbreast, played by Charlie Sweeney in the centre, was the focus of this scene of Ralston School's performance of The Secret Garden. He is surrounded by other creatures including fox, sheep and squirrels as well as the Detective Del, P.I. (Brandon Alpert) far right. Robin Redbreast, played by Charlie Sweeney in the centre, was the focus of this scene of Ralston School's performance of The Secret Garden. He is surrounded by other creatures including fox, sheep and squirrels as well as the Detective Del, P.I. (Brandon Alpert) far right. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Parents and other family members enjoyed a performance of The Secret Garden by Ralston school students Dec. 13.


The production was possible thanks to the work of Missoula Children’s Theatre — the fourth year in a row the theatre troupe has brought a production to the small village thanks to funding from Ralston School and the Ralston Scholastic Society.
“It’s a great thing for the school and the community,” says Trent Rayner, vice-principal, about the work Missoula Children’s Theatre does with the students.
He adds children increase their self-confidence through taking part in the crash course in putting on a production in a week’s time.
“They gain skills which help them with their academics,” adds Rayner.
Lauren Butler and Brandon Alpert work with Missoula Children’s Theatre. The two arrived at the school Dec. 9 to begin their whirlwind week.
Both know The Secret Garden like the back of their hand since they have been taking the show to 14 different U.S. states and Alberta and Saskatchewan schools since May. They’ll continue their travels, spending a week at each school visited, until May 2014.
In Ralston, auditions were held first for the various parts and doled out. Thanks to the fact the U.S. natives had never been to Ralston before, they have an unbiased opinion about the students and their abilities. The cast included between 50 to 60 students as well as backstage help and two assistant directors.
Then the work began to have a production ready for the family and friends to enjoy by the end of the week.
“We work one on one with everyone. It’s like a puzzle,” says Butler, who is from upstate New York, about creating a production from scratch.
The pair will work with various groups, such as the geese in     The Secret Garden to help them learn their parts. After two days of that one-on-one attention, the various parts are pulled together to begin rehearsing the play as a whole.
Alpert takes a lead role in the production to help guide what’s happening on stage, while Butler ensures things run smoothly backstage.
Usually the dress rehearsal is held on a Friday with the performance on a Saturday, but in Ralston, that was moved up a day.
Butler says it is amazing Ralston’s performance came together as well as it did considering the shortened timeline.
“The kids have been working really hard,” she adds.
Seeing what just two people can do with a group of students is nothing short of remarkable. Alpert says they refuse help from people in the schools they visit, because it can turn into a scenario of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
“We like to teach independence. The kids are capable of more than we give them credit for,” he adds.
Alpert and Butler are also experienced in their craft. Butler has a Masters in theatre from the University of Central Florida while Alpert has his degree in theatre from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  Both also have a strong interest in teaching.
“You’re not going to last long unless teaching comes first for you,” points out Butler.
The pair who have seen a lot of North America now, are looking forward to continuing their work with Missoula Children’s Theatre after this current run, but overseas.
For now, they’re happy to help students learn life skills through theatre.
There are no scripts backstage, as students are encouraged to learn the show simply by listening.
The show is also unique to each school it is brought to as the students bring their own flavour.
“We play to their strengths and tailor it to the kids,” says Alpert.
“The coolest part is the camaraderie,” adds Butler, pointing out the students and she and Alpert gel to become a strong team.
The Missoula Children’s Theatre International Tour has been going strong for 40 years and this year will work with more than 65,000 children in more than 1,200 communities in  50 states and 17 countries.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor