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'King Arthur's Quest' set for this weekend

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Alyssa Landwehr (far right), 11, and Bailey Bruns (second from right), 12, play the White Squire and the White Knight in the Missoula Children's Theatre production of "King Arthur's Quest."

WORTHINGTON -- It won't take long for the script-toting, sweatshirt-wearing Worthington area youngsters to transform themselves into regal Knights of the Round Table.

In fact, it will take less than a week.

As participants in the Missoula Children's Theatre's weeklong residency, the 60 local youths are preparing a whirlwind production of "King Arthur's Quest": auditions were Monday, and performances start Friday.

The students will put in about 15 hours of afterschool rehearsal time for the hour-long show, said Jon Gregory and Kevin Harrington, actor-directors for the Montana-based touring theatre company.

They bring the props, and the communities they visit bring the talent. Harrington said children are more apt to tackle a show in only a week's time.

"They're open to new experiences and open to be able to do something like this," he explained. "When you say 'You can do this,' they go 'Oh yeah, we can.'"

And having a historical venue to perform in doesn't hurt, either.

"It's like a heightened sense of experience in the show; you do get that extra feeling of professionalism," said Harrington, who has also directed performances in cafeterias and gymnasiums.

Gregory said exposing children to the performing arts at an early age helps develop self-confidence and banish self-consciousness.

"One way it's different than sports is there's a sense of cooperation," he said. "Everyone's important."

"When the audience is clapping and laughing and enjoying the show, it's something that sticks with them," added Harrington.

The play, written by the company's artistic director Michael McGill, contains a lesson about the importance of working together.

The characters "meet some difficulty within the kingdom; ghosts and a giant and a dragon," explained Gregory. "King Arthur tries to deal with all those things, but he realizes he needs help."

Arthur is played by Nate Gustaf, an eighth-grader at St. John's Lutheran School in Okabena, who also played King Size during last year's MCT production of "The Princess and the Pea."

"It's fun doing it with your friends and just getting to hang out with them," he said of the experience. Nate has already begun practicing his lines and doesn't think he'll get too much stage fright come Friday. "You're the most nervous before the show but after you get through it it's not so bad," he said.

One participant who definitely does not want to be on stage is Worthington High School ninth-grader Kate Lesnar, one of four assistant directors who help with backstage duties.

"I don't like being on stage; when I was auditioning I wanted to be backstage more than anything," explained Kate, who participated in children's theater when she was younger and is also a longtime dance student. "I like working with the little kids."

The show also features Laura Koepsell as Guinevere, Jaron Sternke as Sir Lancelot and Kenny Winters as Merlin.

The MCT residency is being sponsored by Friends of the Auditorium.

"It's their way of giving back to the community because the kids don't pay to participate," said Margaret Hurlbut-Vosburgh, the auditorium manager. "It's also long-range audience development: Maybe they'll join us for other shows or (attend) as a ticket-buyer."

"King Arthur's Quest" will be 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. Ticket office phone is ( 507) 376-9101.

The show is also sponsored by Hy-Vee Food Stores, Nobles-Murray Rural Electric Trust, Echo Lighting and Design Gallery and The Dance Academy.