Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

January 30, 2014

Missoula Directors, kids share personal growth

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

emann@pvdemocrat.com — Many a parents’ eyes will proudly be upon the young performers as Missoula Children’s Theater brings its latest tale to the Pauls Valley High School Auditorium this Friday and Saturday.

However, the town is already once again making an impact on the two directors, C.J. Bonde and Liz Behnke, who have traveled to their latest destination for their first ever taste of the Sooner state. Bringing with them an opportunity for 60 kids to live out the lives of characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” each town is a chance for personal growth, proving that lives are changed as soon as the first rehearsal begins.

“We had 105 at auditions and we were able to cast 60,” said Bonde. “The idea that it’s bigger than one place, one play, the impact the week can have on the kids is really amazing.”

Both directors have been involved in the program since last May after they graduated from college, though only have been together this semester and felt it was the perfect way to use their theater degrees to the fullest potential. Despite switching out the role of the scarecrow and director with the same story every week, the journey toward performance changes with fresh faces that show families something they never expected in them.

“It’s so different what the kids bring to it every week,” said Behnke. “The parents are amazed.”

One moment that has really helped defined how important being involved in this traveling theater group for Bonde, who grew up in Cleveland and was living in West Virginia, is was a young man in a previous show who started out so nervous that he would cry even though he had just one line. He was able to overcome that fear due to the encouragement he received from his fellow students and after doing really well in the play, was further boosted by his cast mates’ congratulations.

“I got very teary,” said Bonde. “It was one of those proud teacher moments.”

For Behnke, who is from Minnesota, the best part of being involved is that it there is a role for someone no matter their circumstances and will stick with the children even if they decide it is not their passion. She is most impressed about what is done for kids who are disabled, to give them something this special when they might otherwise be left out of the experience.

“One thing I love about the company is it doesn’t matter who you are,” said Behnke. “The ability to teach people, touch people in so many ways.”

Similar to other Missoula plays, these performances will also have a musical tone to them with custom choreography, with this version being based more on the original stories from the books instead of the movies. There are plenty of jokes, literally “corny” at times and lasts about an hour and 15 minutes.

“Everything you need is right there inside of you,” said Bonde, who shared her co-director’s sentiment that they would like to keep this going for some time, even do it internationally. “The great thing about it is that it is already a good story with great morals and you don’t have to change everything.”

Along with a show just for students in the school district Friday afternoon, the two shows for the public will be at 7 p.m. that evening and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children 4-18 years and are all sold at the auditorium.