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No Strings Attached: Pinocchio’s Real Boys and Girls


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A young girl sits in the empty rows of chairs, watching the stage.

Siena Walter is all bottled energy.

She answers questions politely, but her face is beaming.

The play, she said, is "really good and fun — I'm excited."

On stage, a group of her cast-mates are rehearsing "Pinocchio." Siena plays Hickory Cr icket , who acts as Pinocchio's conscience, although "sometimes I take back what I say," she said.

"Excuse me, I've got to go on now," she said softly, and then leaped onto the stage to belt out a line.

Siena's been coming to the Children's Theatre Camp, put on by Havre Montana Actors' Theatre, for two years, and it shows on the stage.

It's only the second day of rehearsals, but Siena and her fellow actors hardly look at their scripts as director Angela Pratt leads them through the scene. The actors have fun with her suggestions and have no trouble projecting across the theater.

An older girl sits in the first row; Adrienne is in seventh grade, and one of the mentors at the camp.

"It's fun to watch 'em," she said.

The camp has been running for about 14 years, and it has grown considerably.

This is the first year it has had mentors and has split into two sessions. This week's session is for children in kindergarten to fifth grade, who will perform "Pinocchio" on Friday at 6 and 7:30 pm.

Next week, kids in grades six to 12 rehearse for two shows, "The Morgue the Merrier" and "The Fourth Wish."

But many kids who signed up for the second session also volunteered to mentor the younger actors in "Pinocchio," of whom "about 70 percent are new" to the camp, Pratt said. "Some have just turned five."

The other 30 percent, however, have been coming to camp for years.

Backstage, a group of actors run lines together. Pratt's son Aylan waits for his character, Geppetto, to appear.

Aylan, at 10 years old, has been part of at least five MAT productions and wants to be an actor for the stage.

"Movies have too much tension built up," he said. "Kinda get scared."

But like a lot of the kids at camp, he isn't nervous for Friday, just excited.

The mentors are confident the play will be ready by then.

"Most of them know their lines pretty well," Adrienne said.

There are a few more lines for Vander Swensen, who plays Pinocchio, to learn, but he's had enough experience to seem sure of himself. Vander acted in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," but admits that it is a little harder to learn the lines in "Pinocchio," since it isn't a musical. He said he likes to act, but doesn't plan on making it a career. A lot of kids are just here for the fun, but they seem to gain confidence at the camp. Repeat actors like Vander are poised interviewees.

The rest of the cast has split into small groups throughout the theater. In one room, kids volunteer for the props for which they will be in charge. In another, a group of younger children practice twirling and singing. A few mentors sit around them and, at the direction of a volunteer, the children transformed into the whale that will swallow Geppetto.

One of the volunteers, Lauren Miller, sat nearby.

"It's fun," she said, smiling. "They're kids."

"Pinocchio," directed by Angela Pratt, will show at 6 and 7:30 p.m. this Friday, at the Havre Montana Actors' Theatre.


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