photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock

Great tufts of snow wafted to the white ground outside Sisters High School last weekend as audiences made their way inside to "The Snow Queen."

Produced by Missoula Children's Theatre (MCT), in partnership with Sisters Folk Festival and Sisters Schools, the show was borne of an interesting premise: that students can learn their lines, blocking, and several short songs in just five days' time, then perform for the public.

Many kids arrived at auditions with no prior stage experience. As Brad Tisdel of the Folk Festival acknowledged in his opening remarks, there is a shortage of theatre education in Sisters Country.

More than 60 local kids were cast to act and sing in the show. Three were selected to learn the backstage arts as assistant directors: Norah Thorsett, Kaidyn Wetherell, and Jaxon Wetherell.

The classic tale hinges on young Kay, a boy transformed by an evil magic mirror and lured away by the Snow Queen. (If you're more familiar with Narnia than fairy tales, think Edmund and the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

Coming to Kay's rescue is his friend Gerda, steadfast and true. As she makes her way through enchanted gardens and frightening forests, she meets a snow leopard, prince, and a sorceress, among others. Aided by crows and reindeer, captured by robbers, Gerda meets her challenges head-on.

In this production, a simple snow-and-mountains backdrop served for scenery. Instead of individual stage sets, narrator and actors indicated the location of scenes.

MCT provided the backdrop, costumes, scripts, makeup, and nearly everything but the cast for The Snow Queen. One director and one actor drive the items around the country in a Ford F-150, creating a production each week in a new town, starring local kids.

One hardworking adult actor, Spencer Hamilton of MCT, carried much of the show. His character, the lead Hobgoblin, narrated the action and led kids in songs.

His rapid-fire delivery kept the play leaping along, sometimes so rapidly that there wasn't time for the actors to truly interact with each other, or for the audience to absorb and respond to a joke.

Hamilton also jumped in to supply prompts for student actors when they dropped lines, important for a show produced so fast.

His Hobgoblins got to stretch their acting muscles. In addition to spoken lines and songs, they used inventive movement to portray rivers, flowers, fires, menacing trees-even palaces.

Gerda was played with straightforward determination by Kayla Root. Keegan Kroytz played her friend Kay. (Spoiler Alert: Gerda finds him in the end!)

Lauren Taylor turned in a lively, engaging performance, doubling as the Gardener Woman and the Finnish Woman. Addie Kroytz portrayed the always-aggravated Snow Queen, ordering around her hapless Yeti, played by Cian Schultz.

Many children were cast into one of three groups: Snow Chickens, Snow Animals, or Robbers.

"Since it was my first time in a play," said Janae Mitchell, age 9, "I was really nervous. But it was really fun."

Mitchell, a student at Sisters Elementary School, played a Robber. She used memorization skills learned at school to help learn her lines.

She said "The Snow Queen" taught her "that you shouldn't give up."

Sisters Elementary music teacher Sara Miller accompanied the show beautifully on piano. Marie Phillips was the director. Michael McGill wrote the book, music, and lyrics based on the classic Snow Queen fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

MCT's mission is the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts. Creativity, collaboration, goal achievement, communication, and self-esteem are among the skills typically learned in theatre.

The production was made possible by a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation's Studio to School initiative.

Students who missed out on "The Snow Queen" can learn theatre skills locally this summer. Starshine Theater Camp participants will rehearse and perform in Sisters, creating devised plays in one week's time. Camps will be directed by Jennie Sharp of Black Butte School in Camp Sherman.