A conversation with the company of the Rep’s 2015 Montana Educational Outreach Tour
By Cohen Ambrose
A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with the company of Growing Up in Wonderland, the Rep’s 2015 Montana Educational Outreach tour production, written by Dr. Jillian Campana, Head of Performance & Practice area of UM’s School of Theatre & Dance. Three 2015 graduates of the acting program, Hannah Appell (HA), HanaSara Ito (HI), and Sean Kirkpatrick (SK) spent nearly three months touring the state of Montana, visiting schools and communities, offering workshops, discussions, and their production of Growing Up in Wonderland.
CA: What were some of your favorite parts of the tour, overall?
HA: Traveling around Montana and getting to know more of the state was one of the best parts of tour. You go from Missoula all the way to the very Eastern part of Montana – we went to Sidney and Glendive and all the way over there – and it gives you the idea of how big Montana and different it all is. Even though I grew up in Roundup, it was great to experience so much more of the state.
HI: I think it’s great to watch the connections the kids make about the way theatre can help them in their lives – to talk to kids and hear them say, “Oh, I never thought about that,” or “Oh, is that what empathy is?” Most of the teachers would talk to us about the “Aha” moment that kids get why they make connections. And to watch that happen at a new school almost every day is really cool. It’s rewarding to tell a kid, “this is a job and you could do this for a living,” and have them go “What, really, I can do that?” It’s really nice to be able to touch lives like that.
SK: I agree and it was also really cool to meet not just the students, but all the adults that took
us in. Like the people in Sidney. We got done packing up at ten or eleven at night and this woman just invited us to her house and made soup and bread and rice crispy treats, and talked to us about how
they bring in theatre because they don’t have an established theatre group there. So it was cool to realize that, yes, we go to schools, but we’re also bringing live theatre to communities across Montana that otherwise don’t get to experience live theatre very often
CA: What were some of your favorite stops on the tour?
SK: Glasgow was great!
HI: Glasgow was really cool.
SK: We were celebrities in Glasgow.
HI: Yeah, a bunch of people came up to us in the IGA and said, “Good job!”
HA: Glasgow was the first place we went to that really gave us the small-town feel of Montana. No one was afraid to come up and talk to us. It was very “Montana” in its way of welcoming us.
HI: Miles City was great even though the audience was seven people.
SK: Which was cool because, yeah we only had seven people, but they were engaged and wanted to be there. And Ronan was really great because we got to hang out with recent alumna of the School of Theatre & Dance, Tristen Davis, who just got a job teaching there right after graduating from the theatre education program. We got to sit in on a middle school drama class and watch a scene that some of the kids wrote themselves.
HI: Butte was really nice too because we performed at an alternative high school. The students were some of the best we had because they were so helpful, and the workshop was great because they were goofy and having fun, but they were also willing to listen and be serious about Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, and critically think about social issues. Like one kid came up to me – a big kid with a deep voice – and he said, “well, I think this could, like, help me when I get really angry, you know…” That was really cool and the same kind of thing happened at Linderman Education Center in Kalispell – those students were great as well.
CA: What did you learn about yourselves as performers?
SK: I learned how important it is to me to be able to center myself before going onstage because, in this format, most of the time we didn’t have time to do that because we’d have to do a show, pack up the set, drive forever, unpack, do a workshop, put up the set, do the show, etc. and there was not always enough time in between to center myself. Those times
we did have time to center ourselves, though, were the times I performed the best. So I learned how important that time is.
HA: It’s nice to be able to do everything it takes to put on a professional-level show – to have to learn all the aspects of production, rather than just acting. Hana and I, for example, didn’t know anything about lighting before the tour, but now we know a lot about lights. This project helped me grow as a general theatre practitioner.
HI: It’s cool because we’re all primarily trained and experienced as actors, but Hannah is an actor who became a company manager, I am an actor who became a stage manager, and Sean is an actor who became a workshop manager. So it was a great sense of accomplishment to look back and go, “Wow, we did all of that and there’s only three of us!”
CA: What did you learn about yourselves as teachers?
HI: Usually when you teach you have the opportunity to build a relationship. In a workshop you just have 45 minutes, so you have to really gauge the kids and get a sense of what they can handle. We all have different specialties: Sean’s is improv., Hannah and I have a lot of experience with Theatre of the Oppressed, and watching what the kids got out of each of the workshops was really rewarding.
SK: I learned a lot about learning how to connect with students who didn’t necessarily choose to be there. I learned that in order to engage those students, we couldn’t do it as a lecture, they had to be up on their feet and engaged. Everyone is going to be participating.
HI: We learned that side coaching was really important: get them on their feet and talk to them as they’re doing the exercise. Keep them engaged, ask questions, show them examples, show them that we’re willing to do what they’re doing even though it’s 8:45 a.m.
HA: Yeah, that was really important. If we got up and got really over-the-top goofy and ridiculous, then they’d be willing because they’d be like, “Well, I’m not going to look as stupid as you, so I’ll be fine.”
HI: Watching the teachers watch their kids and go, “Where did that come from?” was so fun.
CA: What did you learn about yourselves as collaborators?
SK: We had a good talk around about the first or second week. We had a workshop where all three of us were leading a workshop and we weren’t on the same page about who was leading and what we were doing. So we had a conversation in the car about having one leader per workshop in the future.
HA: We also found that when that one thing cracked in the workshop, it was also cracking onstage, and just relationship-wise. At that point, we got into the truck and I was fuming so I turned to Sean and said, “We have to fix this.” And we did, which was really positive and that translated from the workshops, to the performances, to loading the set in and out.
HI: Yeah, you can’t go into moving big set pieces around with feelings of resentment or someone is going to get hurt.
HA: We also had this fun saying that developed over the tour that went, “You’re right, but I’m not happy about it.” All three of us are know-it-alls. For example, one of us would have an idea about how to make something work better and another one of us would think about it and go, “Well my idea was good, but her idea is better,” and then just have to suck it up and admit it by saying, “You’re right, but I’m not happy about it” and then do their idea because it was better, which helped each of us let go a little and focus on the greater aspects of the experience.
CA: Is there anything else you want to share that I haven’t asked about?
SK: One of the biggest things for me was talking to students during the talk backs who would see that we were doing something that we loved doing for a living. For example, one kid asked us, “What would you say to someone who is chasing their dreams but doesn’t have support from their family?”
HI: Yeah, after one performance, this mom was there with her daughter who wanted to be an actor and she said to her, “See, this is Hannah from Roundup and you could be Amy from Plains!” And I was like, “Ah! Way to go, mom!” Also, there was this kid in one town who came up to us after a performance and said he had a few suggestions about how we could make it better, which we welcomed, and he proceeded to suggest all these ideas straight out of the Tim Burton film version of Alice in Wonderland.
HA: Yeah, but he was very serious about all his suggestions. So we told him that he had great ideas and that he ought to write them down and write his own script, and he was like, “Oh, really, I could do that?”
SK: Yeah, I don’t think the thought had occurred to him that he could write and produce his own play. He was really excited.
HA: There was another girl who we met that talked to us about how much she related to Alice and how she didn’t want to grow up either and that maybe that was why she got picked on a lot. She was very sweet and it was great to see how some kids really related to the story and maybe even learned something about themselves.
CA: What was the best meal?
HI & SK: June’s Bungalow in Colstrip.
HA: See…I don’t know if I agree. I think your burgers must have been better than mine.
HI: It was just a little restaurant in her house.
HA: I think Walker’s Grill in Billings was the best.
HI: Those were both the best on either end of the price range. June’s was really affordable and Walker’s is more pricey.
SK: The best school lunch was the mashed potatoes and beef gravy in Thompson Falls.
CA: And the best hotel?
HA: Hampton Inn in Kalispell.
SK & HI: Oo! Yeah!
HI: 24-hour pool. Enough said.