The Jungle On Stage

By Beacon Staff

When Alpine Theatre Project held tryouts for their kids educational program, Luke Walrath and Betsi Morrison hoped for 50 children to show up. They had no idea 120 youngsters would walk on to the stage for auditions. “The majority of these kids just want the experience of being involved in something like this,” said Walrath. No doubt many were also lured by program’s popular musical Jungle Book KIDS.

Instead of turning kids away, Walrath and Morrison admitted all of the 6- to 13-year-olds to the educational program to learn theater basics, team building, and improvisational skills. The program culminates in productions of the musical. “Most of these kids had never auditioned before,” said Walrath. “But the point is to educate, so we took any kids who wanted to be involved.”

Walrath targets confidence-building as one of the program’s main goals. “Many kids feel awkward and scared of looking silly,” he said. “We wanted to instill in them a sense of self-confidence to learn the ability to control the stage. That’s been big with these kids.”

To handle a jungle of kids, Walrath and Morrision broke the children into two groups of 60—the Mowgli cast and the Ballou cast. Each rehearsed and learned theater arts two days per week. Parents aided as “Jungle Guides.”

While the productions between the two casts are similar, the principals are very different. Shere Khan, for instance, is portrayed by a 12-year-old boy in one and 13-year-old girl in another. The look of the shows, however, is identical with jeans and color-coded T-shirts for costumes. Accessories convey the essence of the characters, explained Walrath. “Rather than tiger and bear costumes, there’s things like a sequin cape and Elvis sunglasses—full-on Studio 54 or David Bowie glam.”

The program ends with a weekend of the musical production. The Mowgli cast will perform two shows on Saturday, Dec. 6, followed by the Ballou cast with double shows on Sunday, Dec. 7. Performances take place at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center at 2 and 7 p.m. each day. Tickets are $12 and $7 and are available by calling the ATP Box Office at 406-862-SHOW or visiting the ATP website at www.alpinetheatreproject.org.