Last Saturday, the young actors of Socorro joined the Missoula Children’s Theatre company for an intense week of life on the boards. They auditioned on Monday, workshopped and rehearsed all week, and Saturday was show time! I attended the 1 p.m. performance, where 100 or so attendees filled the first dozen rows of Macey Center. For one magical hour, we were all family, eager to applaud and cheer our little thespians as they romped through “The Secret Garden.”

Most of the performers were “off book” by show time, and Missoula company rep Spencer Hamilton did a fantastic job of both portraying Detective Del, and gently directing the play while on stage, encouraging the nervous among the troupe through their lines and blocking. The kids got to experience personal growth as well as teamwork, and that special camaraderie that comes from live performance.

Even if this is the only time they do a show, they will remember that thrill, the audience’s chuckles, the outburst of applause and the huge smiles when the curtain came down. I know the feelings. In fact, I’ll never forget them.

My life in show business was brief but legendary. I have had two incredible moments on stage. In third grade, I was cast as Mattie Witch in the Halloween play. Yes, it was the lead role. I knew my lines, but I knew everyone’s lines as well. I have no recollection of the play itself, other than having trouble with my hat which kept slipping. But the show must go on.

The second production had a bit more gravitas. In 11th grade, I was talked into attending drama club auditions. A young director working on her master’s thesis at University of Texas came to stage a children’s version of Don Quixote. The show would be presented to busloads of kids on a field trip to our high school theater for two performances. It was a full production with costumes, sets, technical stuff, and … acting.

Did I get the lead part again? Was I Don Quixote or Sancho Panza? Those roles went to boys (it was the 1970s). Was I Dulcinea? Alas, no. Perhaps better than all those parts, I landed the role of Rocinante. Well, half of Rocinante – the horse.

Immediately, you are wondering ‘which half’? I cannot tell you – stage secrets and all. It was a comedic role – think Lucille Ball’s or Chevy Chase’s type of physical comedy. My partner and I were brilliant as Rocinante. Trust me on that.

But I was in a show. That was the important part. I went to rehearsals, I worked with other actors, I learned stage directions and blocking (and memorized everyone’s lines again), and I got to hear the laughter (so much laughter) and applause from our audiences. There was a cast party, and I suddenly had a whole new cadre of friends. I took risks, got out of my “brainy” clique for a bit, and enjoyed the limelight.

The self-esteem, the confidence and the memories are what I took from that time. Although I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to be an actor, there were people in the company who went on to other shows at school and then branched out into theater and music careers after graduation.

My point is this: doing a show lit a spark in all of us. It gave us a chance to explore something new, to take risks, to challenge ourselves, and best of all (for me), to elicit laughter from a packed audience. These skills translate into adult life, but just for that moment in time, it was fun.

Bravo, Missoula Children’s Theatre and New Mexico Tech Performing Arts Series, bravo! I can’t wait for next summer’s production.

That’s my story. Tell me yours.

The grand finale of “The Secret Garden,” produced by Missoula Children’s Theatre, starred our little stars.
Jay Ann Cox | El Defensor Chieftain

Jay Ann Cox, El Defensor Chieftain Editor