Story by Ammie Bryant
Like many moms, Megan Hazzard has an activity-filled calendar. Starred on that calendar for the summer is the week-long Missoula Children’s Theatre workshop. Last year was the first year that her children participated in the program and Megan was impressed with their experience. She teaches speech and is a big advocate for the many benefits of children’s theater.
“I was so impressed with the diversity of kids participating. It’s free to everyone. . . . This is the best gift for our community and kids.”
So imagine her family’s disappointment when they found out that Missoula Children’s Theatre would not be coming to Stillwater this summer.
For sixteen years, MCT has been bringing the children’s theater workshop to Stillwater. It has become a tradition for many kids. Megan shared the story of one of the teenagers she spoke to last year who said that she has participated for more than a decade and looks forward to it every year. “She has a wall of Missoula Children’s Theatre t-shirts in her bedroom that she calls her wall of fame.”
This year will be different. Stillwater Community Center Manager Stephanie Kinder explained, “With recent City of Stillwater budget reductions and careful review of our operating and programming budget, Missoula Children’s Theatre will not be presented [by the City] in FY17. This program traditionally receives funding through local and state grants and there is no guarantee funding will be available.”
So Megan wondered, “how can I help?” She made some calls. She found out that the City of Stillwater had previously budgeted around $6,000 each year to bring Missoula Children’s Theatre to Stillwater. Then she contacted MCT and found out that with homestays arranged for the team of two directors who run the whole show and the donation of the performance space at the Stillwater Community Center Houston Theater, the cost could be pared down to under $5,000.
Then Megan found out that she and her family would be traveling out of town all summer and unable to participate–let alone help raise money and coordinate these efforts.
Enter Beth Furnish. Even though Beth’s children had never participated in the program she had heard enough about it to know she wanted to help.
So Beth picked up the reins from Megan. One of the first steps she took was to identify a non-profit willing to work with her to bring Missoula Children’s Theatre back to the Stillwater Community Center. The Stillwater Community Center Foundation agreed to work with Beth as this program has been a long-held tradition of free programming for area kids at the Stillwater Community Center that its Foundation wanted to see continue.
Next, Beth began identifying possible grants to apply for and began looking for businesses willing to help sponsor the week-long theater program. She has also set up a gofundme account to accept donations online.
Community Center Manager Kinder was thrilled to hear that local families were willing to pursue funding to bring MCT back to Stillwater for another summer. “We are very excited to partner with Beth Furnish and will be able to provide the rehearsal and performance space along with the technical assistance.”
Bringing MCT back to Stillwater means a lot to many young people who have participated in Missoula Children’s Theatre through the years. For Audrey Ochsner, who is home-schooled, “Missoula has been another way that I can be a part of the arts. I’m not part of the public school system so I can’t participate in those programs. So having MCT is another way that let’s me be a part of a team and work to put on a show.”
Missoula Children’s Theatre doesn’t just appeal to the homeschooled community though. Many public and private school children participate from throughout the community. This is a program that brings together kids from a wide range of demographics.
Megan Hazzard, Beth Furnish, and many community members like them understand that with public arts funding on the decline it will be more important than ever for individuals to donate to keep programs like this available for all of our youth. “I hope it is a staple in our community. And I want to keep it free for kids to participate,” said Megan Hazzard.
If you want to support efforts to bring Missoula Children’s Theatre to Stillwater August 7-12, make checks payable to the Stillwater Community Center Foundation and mail them to PO Box 24, Stillwater, OK 74076 or visit https://www.gofundme.com/missoula-childrens-theater. You can also contact Beth Furnish via email at MCTStillwater@gmail.com.
ABOUT MISSOULA CHILDREN’S THEATRE
Touring since 1973, Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) is the nation’s largest touring children’s theatre. MCT visits more than 1,200 communities around the world including all fifty states, fifteen countries, five Canadian provinces, and two territories. A tour team of two directors arrives with a set, lights, costumes, props, and make-up, everything it takes to put on a play except for the cast. The team holds an open audition and casts fifty to sixty local students to perform in the production. The show is rehearsed throughout the week and two public performances are presented on Saturday. All MCT shows are original adaptations of classic children’s stories and fairytales, a twist on the classic stories that we know and love. Creativity, social skills, goal achievement, communication skills, and self-esteem are all characteristics that are attained through participation. MCT’s mission is the development of life-skills in children through participation in the performing arts.