Flathead Valley Family

Creativity and Confidence Take the Lead Role in Children’s Theater

There is a range of opportunities in the Flathead, from stage productions to summer camps, that can offer kids a chance to perform and learn new skills

By Mike Kordenbrock
Students rehearse “Tarzan” at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. Beacon file photo

The leaders of three theater programs in the Flathead Valley agree that children’s theater offers an opportunity for creative expression and the development of skills that have value outside of the performing arts world. 

Kim Krueger, the artistic director for the Whitefish Theatre Company, knows that at the foundation of children’s theater is bravery. Past the costumes, characters, and bright lights that are the trappings of any stage performance, the courage to even try is something required from the very start.  

“To actually come and put yourself on the line knowing that you may get a part or may not,” Krueger said. 

It’s from that boldness and willingness to take a chance that a whole world of opportunity can open up. And if a child doesn’t get the part, or doesn’t get cast, Krueger said it’s important to know that it might simply have been the wrong role at the wrong time. Having been involved in theater since the fourth grade, Krueger said that over her decades in performing arts, there have been times when she hasn’t been cast, even as an adult. In those moments of disappointment, she said she gives herself some time to be upset before asking what she could do better next time. 

“That’s a tough life skill,” Krueger said, adding that it doesn’t only apply to theater. Other extracurriculars, from speech and debate to basketball all carry some risk of coming up short or not making the team at all. “But when you do get it, it’s the joy of that moment. And you’ll know that you’ve earned it, and I think that’s a super valuable life lesson.” 

Brach Thomson, the artistic director for the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre, said that being on stage for people who love theater is like getting bit by a metaphorical bug. 

“All of a sudden there’s people cheering and applauding for you, and you love it,” he said. 

But Thomson said that he doesn’t believe there’s a stereotypical theater kid. Over his decades teaching the Flathead’s youth how to sing, dance, and express themselves, he’s seen all types of kids succeed, but that success is dependent on putting in the time and effort. That means showing up to rehearsals, and showing up on time, which in and of itself is a life skill. Thomson’s rehearsals are tightly planned, so someone showing up late can have a domino effect on everyone else. Thomson said he wants to put on the best shows possible and buck some of the preconceived notions people have about how good of a performance they might actually encounter at a children’s theater show. 

“I try hard right from the beginning to make these kids realize this is a team sport,” Thomson said, adding that he believes the experience of performing in front of a live audience instill confidence in kids.

A rehearsal of Frozen Jr. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

 Betsi Morrison, the artistic director for the Alpine Theatre Project (ATP), also pointed towards the confidence that kids gain from theater, including by getting them accustomed to public speaking. Theater also teaches kids how to be creative and spontaneous. 

“It’s just a great, great foundation for anyone,” Morrison said. 

Although everyone auditions, a cornerstone of ATP’s children’s program is that no one is turned away, Morrison said. She said that leads to a diverse group of kids working together towards the same goal. Particularly with the younger kids, she said she tries to talk to them eye-to-eye when offering instruction. One of the most rewarding things for Morrison is watching kids who come back to ATP grow over the course of time.

“There’s nothing greater than being able to positively affect the life of a child,” Morrison said. 

ATP offers a high school theater program in the spring, and children’s theater camp in the summer, as well as fall program for kids in first through eighth grade. There’s also a children’s version of the ATP’s annual holiday show Yuletide Affair, which includes kids from fifth through twelfth grade. More information can be found at www.atpwhitefish.org

A rehearsal of Frozen Jr. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish Theatre Company offers multiple camps in the summer geared towards different age groups and skills, and information usually comes out after Spring Break. Camps include dance camps, acting camp and improv camps. The theater company also casts kids in stage performances depending on the production, and Krueger said there are also opportunities for teens to work backstage, and that WTC has also worked in the past to accommodate teens with special needs. More information can be found at www.whitefishtheatreco.org

The Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre averages four musical productions a year, and has two choirs, including one for kids between fourth and eighth grade, and another for high school-age kids. Thomson, the director, also has a jazz band, and other specialty groups that run through the theatre, and he said they offer a variety of workshop camps for musical theater skill development. Workshops are usually offered in the summertime, and experience isn’t required. More information can be found at www.bigforksummerplayhouse.com/childrens-theatre/

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