Seeds Sow Confidence and Fun

Photos by James BODNAR
Hearing the tale of Johnny Appleseed.

By Lori BODNAR, intern

Nearly 300 people gathered on Jan. 11 at Rosemont Middle School to watch the funny and entertaining play “Johnny Appleseed” performed by Mountain Avenue Elementary School students. In the play, Johnny and his little “apple seed buddies” travel across the land and make friends with everyone – people and animals. As they sow apple seeds that will sprout into apple trees, they also sow friendships and kindness to prove that one person can help others and make a big difference in the world. Perhaps most amazing was that the performers – around 60 students – learned their lines and performance routines in less than a week.

The play was produced by the Missoula Children’s Theatre, a troupe that began over 40 years ago in Montana and expanded to all 50 states and 17 countries, with support by the Mountain Avenue Elementary School PTA.

The main characters of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ with support stage crewmembers.

Typically students practice five days after school then perform their play on Saturday. The Missoula tour directors then move on to another school. The plays are original scripts written by Missoula that are usually a heart-warming funny twist on classics that emphasize kindness, friendship and happy endings and finding peaceful solutions.

“I like Missoula because I travel to different towns all over the country and expose the kids to the arts and acting,” said Samantha Cage, one of the Missoula tour directors.

Cage has been working for Missoula for a year. Nick Schommer, another tour director with Missoula, added, “The summer is the busiest time of year for Missoula. Missoula works with 65,000 kids per year. There are about 750,000 audience members in one year. There are about 32 teams on the road and about 10 shows on the road right now.”

The ‘apple seeds’ delighted the audience

Missoula has been coming to Mountain Avenue Elementary for 17 years, teaching students a different play each year. Samya McCoy is a Mountain Avenue PTA drama co-chair.

“Missoula Children’s Theatre brings kids of all different ages together,” McCoy said. “For one week, all these families pitch in and the result is an amazing experience and a fabulous play.”

Gean Rhodes, a Mountain Avenue PTA drama co-chair, said, “What the kids can do in five days is really special. We have [a short] amount of time and we cast, rehearse and mount a show in five days. The Missoula Children’s Theatre comes prepared with the costumes, sets, scripts, and music. The parents get to take a break and enjoy an amazing performance without having to stay up sewing costumes at midnight.”

Lincoln Cullen is a student a Mountain Avenue and has been in Missoula plays for four years. He played a pioneer in the Johnny Appleseed play.

“Being in the play is fun and is a great way to start a new hobby,” said Lincoln.

His mom, Lainy, added, “This is my ninth year being a Missoula parent. This was one of the best performances I ever seen! The costumes and the music were phenomenal.”

Jennie Nakano has been in Missoula for 5 years and was the “older” Johnny Appleseed in this play. Audience favorites included the “sisters” Molly, Sarah, Rebecca, and Kelly played by Julie Stephan, Bethany Chang, Harper Goldsworthy, and Yella Rose Risso. The western explorers Lewis & Clark were played by Mika Lamn and Lahnee Mo. There was even a friendly (not ferocious) wolf played by Zora McCoy and a kind bison (not a buffalo) played by Andrew Klein. The animals followed Johnny Appleseed around because they loved his apples too! The distinguished Sir Peter Prescott, owner of an apple cider mill press, was well-played by Matthew Blood along with his right-hand man Rupert, played by Andrew Oh. 

Not surprisingly, the crowd loved the adorable little “apple seeds” played by Ava Armenta, Clementene Roserun, Ethan Nakano, Jacob Allen, Khaleesi Holguin, Lawrence McDowell, Micaela Quino, Ryder Hall, Sam Slavin, Sawyer Goldsworthy, Sosie Hakopyan, Summer Young and Toma Hakushi.

Three older students helped assist with lighting, cues and staging as assistant directors: Charly Jorban, Evan Kolwalkowski, and Suzy Bodnar.

Evan, who turned 10 on the day of the performance, handled lighting for the show.

“I like doing the lights because I got to watch the show while also being in the show,” he said.

Plenty of people from the community came out to see the play, including the principal of Mountain Avenue Jaclyn Scott.

“We are really appreciative of the PTA for arranging this experience every year,” said Scott. “It was such a great accomplishment of our students and the community working together.”

Sarah Rush is a friend of some of the performers and an actress.

“I love Missoula and it is a great aspect of our community. It is nice to have the play here at Rosemont Middle School so the community can attend,” said Rush.

Dena Blood is a Missoula parent. Her kids Charlie and Matthew were in the play. Daughter Kimberly, a high school junior, was the piano accompanist.

“I love that my children have participated in the Missoula productions for several years,” said Blood. “Stage acting teaches many useful skills – including memorization, articulation, projection, self-confidence and courage. They also have a lot of fun!”