If you follow my facebook feed, you would know that a few weeks ago, Lily was cast in the Missoula Children's Theater's local production of Alice in Wonderland at her school. Since MCT was a real life changing organization for me as a kid and a young adult, I was both excited and nervous for her to audition. I didn't want to be a bossy stage mom, but at the same time, I REALLY wanted her to get a part, and I knew how the audition process would go. What if I got her all excited about this show that I so wanted her to be a part of and then she didn't get a part? What if she never got to experience the wonderfulness that is the MCT tour? I had butterflies the entire day at work and then held my breath the entire audition, as they lined up tallest to smallest, in true Jim Caron fashion and said their names with loud and clear voices, big and expressive bodies, all the while - and most importantly - following directions and paying attention. She was the second smallest.Lily is 3rd from the right
Before I get ahead of myself I should probably go back a little and talk a little about my own MCT experiences. This could probably be a whole series of blogs on it's own, and maybe over the years it will be. Memories flooded me the last few weeks. FLOODED me. My love and admiration for Jim, Michael, and Melanie - three important people in the organization - as well as for my little community growing up and the Wallowa Valley Arts Counsel for bringing tour actors to my little home county year after year.
I was seven years old, it was March and I was in the second grade. I had big glasses and short awkward choppy hair. I'd started to experience the rejection that comes with looking the way I did and dressing the way I did and ACTING the way I did from some of the kids at school. I was nearly a year younger than many of the kids in my class, in those early years it made a big difference in maturity- but I was more advanced than most academically, plus what with the big glasses (the next year I'd get tri-focals-to call them coke bottles would be an understatement), the lack of any sort of fashion or style, the non stop talking, and the pestering of those who pestered me...I was quite lonely. I had a few good friends, but I definitely knew at that young age that I was different from most of the kids at school. I was aware that there were birthday parties I wasn't invited to, I got left out of 4 square games, didn't get to jump rope with the "cool" girls, and the year before some of the kids had been in a play that I knew nothing about. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The auditions for this year's play, were today. But my (very pregnant) mom had to work, deadline day at her newspaper was tomorrow and she couldn't come get me after school to take me to the audition in our neighboring town - 6 miles away. So after school I called her at work and pleaded one more time. She finally agreed (enter mom guilt) but it would take her 15 minutes to get to Joseph and back to Enterprise where the auditions were being held, so I'd be a half an hour late. That sounded okay to me. She came and got me, I was SO happy. I still remember pacing circles in the small road by out house as I waited for her car to appear. It was a chilly March or April in Wallowa County - but it wasn't freezing as it sometimes was that time of year. It's it funny the specifics you remember when things really matter to you.
When we got to the audition, I was more than a half an hour late, Val M, the local person in charge of setting the whole thing up, putting me in a line of kids who were already chosen for a part, so they took down my name and got in, I didn't really have to do anything to audition. I LOVED it. I was a Pleasure Isle Kid in Pinocchio. I can never thank my mom enough for getting me to that audition. Late even, so that I didn't even have to chance the rejection there.
Growing up in Wallowa County, there wasn't much as far as extra curricular activities other than sports, and I wasn't very good at those. So MCT showed me that I had talent and there was a place for a hard working, memorization expert, loud talking, kid like me. The louder the better? AWESOME. Big expressive bodies? Loud and clear voices? Following dir....well, two out of three weren't bad. And as it turns out, I COULD listen and sit still when my most important one week a year depended on it! At that young age, acting gave me value.
Years later, I would be invited to go to an exclusive camp outside of Missoula, Montana on Flathead lake that I could audition for after the recommendation of the tour actors only. 1-2 kids per town were referred, if any, and then there was a lengthy audition process. I will NEVER EVER forget the day that I got the phone call to let me know I got in. In fact, I'm friends on FaceBook now with the camp director and I emailed her the story recently. What I wouldn't do to get my hands on that audition tape. I sang "That's what friends are for", sitting on the floor of my bedroom with a tape deck. (Okay must remember to copy and paste that email for another blog for sure!) I went to that camp for six years for two weeks every summer. Some of my dearest friends to this day I met at MCT camp.Me in MCT PAC show 'Growing Pains; Rockin' a Hard Place' circa summer 1990 (front & center)
Ultimately I ended up going to college at University of Montana in Missoula because the place held such amazing memories from my youth. And then Missoula was filled with college memories and friends, and many of my camp friends who I reconnected with there, became my college friends instead of my camp friends. And, well, I sort of forgot the deep impact that Missoula Children's Theater had. Or I hadn't stopped to think about it for a while.
Until this year when the flier camp home for volunteers needed at Lily's school in the fall with MCT on the list for the last week of October. Until Lily's audition. Until she was cast. Until I watched her run out on stage during dress rehearsal and I burst into tears at the sight of it. She was a little Lobster who teaches Alice a Lobster Quadrille. I was so excited and PROUD of her and so was she.She's center among the five on the first row, silly faces
During the week of auditions, the tour actors were selling copies of The Little Red Truck, and I bought one, not believing that I hadn't watched it yet after wanting to for so long. The next day I mentioned to Kaitlyn, our tour actor, that I cried as I watched it, thinking how lucky I am to have been directed by Jim Caron (founder of MCT) and Michael McGill. The other actor, stopped what he was doing and said, "You've been directed by Jim and Michael?!". It's a pretty big honor that's for sure, though it's hard to explain (to people who don't know them) that such a big theatrical mecca could really be located in unlikely Montana. Unless you've been to Missoula, then you probably get it.
We found our Little Red Truck in the parking lot upon leaving the audition and I had Lily get a picture next to it.
If you aren't familiar with what MCT does, you MUST click here. But the jist of it is 2 tour actors come to a school on a Monday, cast a show in 2 hrs, and then start rehearsals on Monday night, and have 6 days to put on a full scale production with 60 or so kids. They do a 2 shows on Saturday, then pack up their Little Red Truck and head on to the next town and change more lives of more little kids.
Lily will never understand how and why MCT meant so much to me. She lives in a city filled with opportunities and arts (plus she seems to be pretty good at sports and her vision is 20/20!) But that doesn't matter, it matters to me that I got to see her take part in something so special to me. I wouldn't say I'm living vicariously, just seeing her have fun doing something that I loved so much, means more to me that I can describe. The flood of memories that came back to me that week over a month ago, they mean so very much to me, as do all of my valuable experience with Missoula and it's Children's Theatre. Thanks Jim, Michael, and Melanie. You changed little Jenny and gave big Jenny the gift of watching her daughter sing "Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?"Lily has on the brown shoes and is 4th from the right...
I'll close with this quote from Jim just says so much:
JIM CARON: To this day, I don't exactly understand how it works. But, I mean, Mom and Dad are cheering for them, and so are all the friends, and, you know, the kid that made fun of them on the playground last week, they're all cheering for them. And you can see the light bulbs going over their heads. And they relate this experience and the elements of this experience to other things in their lives.