Get ready for magic Saturday

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

By Staff
Chris Harbur laughed when I asked him how he and fellow Missoula Children's Theater thespian Shirnest Tolbert are able to corral about 60 children into a one-hour musical performance after just one week of rehearsals.
But a bit of magic - mixed with a lot of discipline and fun - is what will be required this week as those children prepare for Saturday night's performance of &#8220The Little Mermaid.”
MCT, a traveling children's production team, brings the costumes, sets, props and scripts, while the Brewton Council of the Arts provides the sponsorship.
All the children have to provide is their talent - along with a willingness to learn and to take direction.
Shirnest and Chris stressed repeatedly that they expect commitment from their cast, who will rehearse every day this week.
And they also expect 110 percent of their young thespians - no matter what part they play.
As any parent or teacher knows, guiding children through a project requires a little bit of tough love - and unique strategies.
The Missoula Children's Theater auditions allow children time to get comfortable on stage while Shirnest and Chris learn more about their young actors' personalities and abilities. It was a simple process: First children sorted themselves into groups by age, then they gradually began expressing themselves - first by shouting their names and ages, then by learning short lines. Along the way, Chris and Shirnest added new responsibilities, teaching the children about how to use their bodies and their facial expressions along with their voices to express the lines.
With each progression, the children were able first to speak lines as a group, and then individually. You could see some of them gaining confidence and becoming more comfortable on stage as Chris and Shirnest quickly assessed which role was best suited for each actor.
Perhaps the most important part of the audition process was when the children showed off their ability to follow directions - using a simple &#8220Simon Says” game.
When all was said and done, the cast - of sea creatures, townspeople and mer-people and a royal family - were ready to start rehearsals.
It seemed, indeed, like magic.
Perhaps the self-confidence and sense of encouragement just one afternoon or one week on stage can produce is the greatest magic &#8220The Little Mermaid” will produce this week.
If you want to see the result, head to the Jefferson Davis Community College auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday. &#8220The Little Mermaid” is sure to dazzle.
Kerry Whipple Bean is publisher of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached at 251-867-4876 or by e-mail at

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