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Missoula Children's Theatre makes an impact on southwest Minnesota

Will Collin/Daily Globe Six rising stars diligently rehearse their lines Tuesday in preparation for upcoming performances of "The Tortoise Versus the Hare" at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington. From left are cast members Macy Joens, Destiny Scoiggs, Jena Joens, Chiyanne Pos, Marah Purdy and Abigail Westman.

WORTHINGTON -- Through the outreach of the Missoula Children's Theatre, this year 65,000 kids will shine in the limelight and entertain an audience of more than 750,000 people.

The Worthington area may only account for 18 of those kids, but they are certainly among the most zealous of performers as they prepare for MCT's upcoming performance of "The Tortoise Versus the Hare" at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

"It's a lot of fun," said young actor Justin Winters. "Especially this year -- it's probably the best one yet."

Winters, a returning participant in Missoula Children's Theatre productions, has been in a show "three or four times," so it's no surprise he received one of the lead parts as the Hare.

Winters' buddy (and only fellow male performer in this year's production) Kip Jenson is a rookie this year, but thought he should have been cast in a lead role.

"I think I should have been the Hare because I'm so fast!" Jenson exclaimed, but the older, more experienced Winters made it clear that he was fit for the part.

Winters' rival, the Tortoise, is played by Ireland Nichols, who is also an experienced actor.

"This is my sixth time performing," Nichols said, "I'm just in town for the week and decided to go for it."

Although the youths promise a Broadway-caliber performance, two professional actors and Missoula Children's Theatre associates are actually coordinating the production.

Megan Wiltshire and John-Thomas Appling alternate weekly on who will be on stage and who will oversee the play from behind the scenes.

"We always have a role that keeps one of us on stage," Appling explained, "just in case someone forgets a line or anything like that."

MCT is only on its second week of touring, but Wiltshire and Appling said the season is off to a great start,

"We love what we're doing," Appling said. "These 'sponges' learn so fast, it isn't long before they're reminding us of our parts."

The part that MCT plays in the lives of children is expressed in its mission statement: "the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts."

While training some future Emmy award winners is all in a day's work, "building life lessons is what MCT is really here for," Appling said.

Whether your philosophy is slow and steady like the Tortoise or fast and foolhardy like the Hare, you'll want to give yourself ample time to get to Memorial Auditorium. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.

For more information, phone 376-9101.