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WATCH NOW: Charity League in Martinsville replaces Missoula Children's Theatre with a program from the Virginia Children's Theatre

WATCH NOW: Charity League in Martinsville replaces Missoula Children's Theatre with a program from the Virginia Children's Theatre

From the Martinsville-region COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from state, nation and world: July 2 series

Charity League’s sponsorship of the popular Missoula Children’s Theatre will be replaced with two programs that have room for more children to participate.

For more than 20 years, Charity League has sponsored the Missoula Children’s Theatre, an intensive, week-long theater program from Montana. Starting in February, the League will sponsor both a Patriot Players’ children’s production and a summer camp from Virginia Children’s Theatre in Roanoke.

In November, the League assisted the Patrick Henry Community College Patriot Players with its performance of “Frozen Jr.” Then, in February, PHCC allowed the League to use the Walker Fine Arts Auditorium for the Missoula Children’s Theatre, which previously had been staged at Martinsville Middle School.

The Patriot Players’ performance would involve four weeks of rehearsals and one weekend of shows, starting in February, Patriot Players Artistic Director Devin Pendleton said. Most children would not have to attend rehearsals every evening of the week, as they did with Missoula.

The Missoula programs had casts of about 50 local children, assisted on stage by one of the two adult directors from Missoula. The casts of the Patriot Players shows would be children only, between the grades of kindergarten and senior.

“Frozen Jr.” had a cast of 68, out of 140 who auditioned, Pendleton said. The next production, to be staged in February (pandemic precautions permitting), would have a cast of 75. Though the next show “is really good,” he said, its schedule won’t be as demanding on families as “Frozen Jr.” was.

Roanoke Children’s Theatre will change its name officially to Virginia Children’s Theatre on Sept. 1, RCT Producing Artistic Director Brett Roden said. He described RCT as “the only professional theater in the state of Virginia solely dedicated to kids, schools and families.”

It gives children a variety of experiences in theater, and also produces professional theater shows for children to watch, produced by professional designers from New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and other areas, he said.

It has a year-round theater academy and “high quality music, dance and education” for children ages 3 through high school senior, he said.

Its summer camp focuses “on the craft as artists, dancers, singers and actors, rather than producing a fully mounted production. It’s training oriented,” Roden said.

The camp, staged in the summer, would be open to 40 kids in the upper elementary grades, with 3-hour sessions each day.

Liz Ashby chaired the Missoula committee for a few years for Charity League. Her love of theater goes back to performing in Missoula as a child and then performing in the Patriot Players' shows as an adult.

Theater “is another world that kids need to be introduced to, a way for them to explore creativity,” she said. “Every child has their talents and their passions, and theater” is an important part of that.

Charity League’s performing arts programming helps “children find what they want in this world, giving them a low stress way to dip their toes into a program,” she said.

Helping the Patriot Players with “Frozen Jr.” served as a positive experience for the League to determine if that was the direction to go, she said – and “it made believers out of us.”

Offering both the Patriot Players show and the VCT’s camp gives kids “the best of both worlds,” Ashby said. “Something for everybody.”

Charity League President Kara Gilley said that before the League made the decision to switch, part of the consideration was that “if we would use community programming instead of Missoula, we’d have to make sure it was spectacular, just like Missoula is.”

Although the plan is for just one VCT camp so far, more camps would be offered if sponsorships supported them. The cost is $1,500 for the weeklong camp, Gilley said.

Support of the performing arts is part of Charity League’s overall mission to support and enrich the lives of children in the Martinsville and Henry County area. The League was founded in 1931 and has more than 400 active and sustaining members.

“Just getting on stage and getting that social interaction and not being afraid to build that confidence is huge in a child,” Gilley said.

Meanwhile, next year’s theater offerings all depend on the state of the pandemic precautions at that time.

“The bigger question is, what does theater look like in COVID,” Pendleton said. That’s the “thing we’re all trying to figure out. The college will adhere to whatever guidelines” are in place at that time.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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