Community members turned out in force to watch a 52-member cast of Challis student-actors in the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “The Frog Prince” last Saturday.

The two performances were the tip of the iceberg for a weeklong residency with Missoula Children’s Theatre actor-directors Serenity Jones and Lindsay Riddle arriving in town, in a trademark red pickup truck with a white camper shell and theatre logos on the side, for Monday evening auditions, conducting nightly rehearsals and Friday’s dress rehearsal and staying through the two Saturday performances. When they’re on the road they never have a day off, unless you count their Sunday travel day between school districts.

“It went really well,” said Stephanie Strand, fifth-grade teacher at Challis Elementary School and liaison between local co-sponsors Challis Joint School District No. 181 and Challis Arts Council. “It always goes really well. They come in, they know what to do and it just goes.”

The five days of rehearsals and the performances on Saturday represent a big time commitment for the student actors and their families, said Strand.

“Every year I say, ‘These Missoula Children’s Theatre actor-directors are the best and every year they keep getting better. They’re pretty phenomenal,” Stand said.

This year’s cast of 52 was higher than average, which was encouraging to Strand. Cast numbers were in the high 20s or 30s the last three years. Strand remembers higher participation in previous years when Challis’ population and student body were larger. Not all of the student actors would fit on the stage back then or there weren’t costumes to go around, so there were cuts on audition night, even for some of the minor parts traditionally played by younger students.

What sticks in Strand’s mind from this performance? The main theme from “The Frog Prince.” The tune from her children’s performance years ago is also still lodged in her head, perhaps forever. It’s a small price to pay for the student actors and student directors who learn acting and stagecraft. Hopefully, the message of the “The Frog Prince” gets across to the children who participated and watched the frog turn into a prince by the end of the play: friendships are made, not bought, and what’s important is not what you are on the outside but your character and who you are on the inside.

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