by Diane Larson

2018 is the 20th anniversary of the Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre. “We had a really successful 20th anniversary season and are excited for more,” said Jackie Freeman, Artistic Director for Butte’s own Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre.

In 1997 Ann and Rose Busch, sisters, one a school teacher and one a cleric, according to gave $500,000 to build a lower level 106-seat children’s theatre in The Mother Lode Theatre. The Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre (OGCT) named after one of Butte’s early mines. One year later, in 1998 the first production of the OGCT opened, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Jackie Freeman is the Artistic Director and Elisabeth Crase is the Educational Director. Together the two work with a host of local talent to bring theatre and theatre education to the youth of Butte. The experience that the children receive in these programs help with “the ability to speak in front of others, the ability to collaborate with others, and accountability to yourself,” explains Jackie. “We have seen with the kids we work with that participating in programs such as OGCT increases the level of competency that kids have in everything they do in school whether that is science fair or math,” said Jackie.

The past season they put on such shows as “Into the Woods,” “The Lion King,” “Christmas Carole,” and “Camp Rock.”

The children who participate in the OGCT have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of theatre. OGCT provides classes, workshops, or intensives that are all based on what plays are chosen for the year. For example, a puppet workshop was provided before The Lion King because of the use of puppetry in that production.

Other classes were stage make-up, scene study, sketch comedy, and playwriting. In past years there have also been stage magic, stage management and classes on technical theatre.

A new item added to the playbill this year was the 10/24 Play Festival Show. 10/24 stands for 10 plays in 24 hours. Suggestions for plays are drawn out of a hat and the authors have 12 hours to write a play. The play is then handed off to directors to cast, direct and produce in the next 12 hours. These works go from idea to premiere in 24 hours. Exciting!

Three to six shows are produced each year at OGCT. Those numbers depend on persons available to direct. With Jackie and Elizabeth being the only two employees they rely heavily on local talent. The local talent is important to the productions but also to help mentor the children in the programs. “We like to include our community artists in our project because our kids learn so much from them, and this venue gives them an outlet as well,” said Jackie. The mentorship is incredible, Jackie explained and said, “The kids learn so much from them.”

Since the Emperor’s New Clothes was the first production of OGCT it was reprised for the 20th anniversary year. “We wrote an adaptation of the play for the occasion, and it was the last production I directed for this year,” explained Jackie.

Another fun program offered is the Storybook Theatre. A book is chosen and the kids are invited on stage, “we add vocal and physical responses that are easy for kid’s ages six and under,” said Jackie. It is a way to engage the younger age range in something that is to as hard as being in a full production but gives them the feel of what could be. “It’s really fun and its cool for the ages, it’s two-fold, 1) this starts to engage younger kids in the theatrical process, 2) it’s also a way for parents of younger kids to get them introduced to Orphan Girl so that when their kids age into the program they are comfortable with their surroundings and the environment,” said Jackie.

Another very special thing that is offered at OGCT is the Spotlight performances. These performances are particularly for younger theatergoers, first-time theatre patrons and people with special needs. This program invites them to come and enjoy theatre in a judgment-free environment. This gives exposure to the theatre to all. And as an extra excitement bonus, the characters or actors go into the audience in full consume to mingle with the crowd.  

The after-school academy is led by Educational Director Elizabeth Crase. There are generally two auditioning classes a year. These classes are tailored toward the programs that will be offered in the coming year. Jackie explained that if kids have their hands on the materials in advance they audition a lot stronger. It takes some of the pressure off.

Toward the middle of June, there will be a summer camp offered by OGCT.  This will be in two sessions. Each session will culminate in a performance that is free to the community. The theme for this year’s summer camp is Twisted Fairy Tales. Participants will take classes in the morning and in the afternoons pick what they want to do, such as direct, do sound, work on costumes etc. The Twisted Fairy Tales “is not necessarily straight based on fairytales themselves, but also how life can be viewed as a fairytale,” said Jackie.

There are approximately 400 kids that go through the programs each year; and they come from as far as Phillipsburg, Dillon, and Anaconda to participate.

The OGCT is launching a new outreach program that will cover the important topics of teen suicide and bullying. These programs will be designed and presented in the Forum Theatre style. This style uses theatre as a way of showing a situation and getting the audience to change the outcome of the story, “help change what they would have done in that situation,”explained Jackie.  Elizabeth, who has a master’s degree in Integrative Arts Education has been working closely with social workers and other mental health professions in Butte to make sure it is just right. These are big topics with big impacts on our community but especially our youth. “We are really pumped to launch this program,” said Jackie.

At the end of each season are the OrFun Awards. This year the event will be on June 9th at 7:00 pm in The Mother Lode Theatre and the event is free to the public. Awards are given for all the hard work from the year and the night promises to be a lot of fun for the kids and community as a whole.

The people of Butte are so appreciative of the arts and supportive of OGCT. Jackie explained, “Our reach in the community is just over four thousand people in southwest Montana that include people in our programs and our outreach programs as well as the patrons.”

They have full houses for most performances. “We have noticed that even when our kids are not in a show they are coming to the shows,” said Jackie. Thus creating the next generation of arts patrons.