Emma Merlo prances around the old school room, hands held to her chin, fingers wiggling as she emulates a raccoon whose short, stubby arms can’t quite extend into the graceful lines of a ballerina.
The 21-year-old darts in and out of the forest backdrops, following her new coworkers as she practices the raccoon ballet scene in “Red Riding Hood,” the musical she will soon teach to hundreds of eager children around the country.
“Sometimes we’ll act like we don’t know what’s going on,” Merlo said. “We’ll pretend to be the little raccoon who has no idea where he’s going because we’ll have to direct him on stage.”
Early Thursday morning, she and her tour partner will pull out of the Missoula Children’s Theatre parking lot in a red Ford F-150 bound for Tennessee. There, she will have six days to cast more than 50 children, teach them their steps and lines and execute an hourlong performance for the community.
Then she’ll drive to Georgia and do it all over again. Next comes Alabama. After that, she’ll head north to Wisconsin, Michigan and Kentucky before making the 2,000-mile trip back to Missoula, truck bed stuffed to the brim with props, costumes, scripts and backdrops.
Merlo is one of 94 tour directors who will travel across the United States and overseas, as far away as U.S. military bases in South Korea and Turkey, this summer on Missoula Children’s Theatre’s international tour. After two weeks of training, pairs of tour directors embark on a three-month journey over mountains, plains and seas to communities filled with children eager to learn the art of stage performance in a single fast-paced week.
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