Acting in Whittier School’s musical production of “The Secret Garden,” 11-year-old Wyatt Amende learned a valuable lesson.

“I learned no matter how old you are, you can still be goofy in front of a crowd, and they don’t care,” the fifth-grader said at Friday’s dress rehearsal.

Wyatt and 58 other Whittier students got a taste of performing in a musical this week when the Missoula Children’s Theatre came to the Bozeman school.

“They definitely know how to pull a show together in four days,” said Wyatt, who played happy-go-lucky Dickon, one of the lead roles.

MCT’s Britt Hensley and Kirsten Paisley showed up Monday with an F-150 pickup truck packed with all the costumes, lights, sound systems, sets and props needed to put on a full-scale show with up to 60 kids.

“The goal of Missoula Children’s Theatre is not to turn them into professional actors in five days,” Paisley said. “It’s to build life skills – confidence, teamwork …”

“Responsibility,” added Hensley. She directed the Whittier show while Paisley played a detective.

Though this is the first year for Hensley and Paisley, this is the 37th year that Missoula Children’s Theatre has been visiting schools and putting on performances. Its traveling troupes go from Maine to California, and have staged shows in all 50 states and 15 countries. In this area it has put on shows from Three Forks to Belgrade and several schools in Bozeman.

More than 100 Whittier children auditioned for Friday’s musical.

Based on the book “The Secret Garden,” it tells the story of two miserable children who learn to overcome their unhappiness with the help of friends in a hidden garden full of friendly fireflies, sheep, geese, birds and colorful bugs that act like rock stars.

The child actors have to memorize lines and songs, and learn how to project their voices and bow to the audience.

Adrianna Banville, 11, said her character, Mary, whose parents have died, is “very bratty” and cross, but she’s able to change, thanks to her friendships.

By the end of the musical, the flowers, birds, bugs and children gathered in the garden to dance and sing, “Celebrate life!”

“It’s really fun,” Adrianna said. “You’re very motivated once you’re in. It’s very exciting.”

Tristan Hernandez, 11, had one of the lead roles as Colin, a boy who’s miserable, using crutches, but by the end can run joyfully in the garden. It was his first time acting.

“It’s really great,” Tristan said. “I’ve learned a lot. Acting is not that easy, and memorizing lines is not easy.”

Lisa Lawton, Whittier reading intervention teacher, said the school’s parent council raised the money to bring in Missoula Children’s Theatre, which has been coming to the school for five years. Kids look forward to it and start asking in January when the play is going to start.

One mother told Lawton that her little girl understood for the first time why reading is important, because she had to read to learn her lines.

“It builds community with the kids,” Lawton said, and benefits “kids who wouldn’t normally have a chance to shine.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.