October 25, 2010

On a recent Friday, Cumberland County students slipped into medieval costumes, rehearsed their lines and tuned up their voices to prepare for the production of the Missoula Children Theatre's play "King Arthur's Quest."

Based out of Missoula, Mont., the theater group has brought professional actors to this south-central Kentucky county for the past several years. A 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which the county's 4H Youth development program and school system received, helped pay for the company's weeklong appearance.

Cumberland County has limited resources for young aspiring actors, actresses, directors and producers. Very little arts and humanities are taught in school, and the county has no community theater.

"This is the only opportunity some of these children will have to be in a play, said Elijah Wilson, the county's 4H Youth development agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Interest among the students is high each year. Of the county's 1,000 first- through twelfth-grade students, 125 auditioned for the play and 60 were given parts this year. While only half were chosen, all of the students who auditioned were able to attend acting workshops put on by the actors during the week.

Over the years, the weeklong rehearsals and acting instruction have jumpstarted the acting careers of some local students.

"Some of the young people in this county who have participated have gone on to get a job with Missoula and went on to college to major in theater," Wilson said.

It's the opportunity to share her love of acting with others that inspired Missoula Children's Theatre actress Alisha Eberhart to join the company after graduating from college with a degree in music theatre.

"It gives a lot to the kids, and you get to touch a lot of lives," she said. "It brings arts to communities that don't have arts programs."

It is her love for acting that keeps Paige Young, a sophomore at Cumberland County High School, coming back for auditions year after year. She's participated in this event for the past 11 years, beginning in kindergarten.

Levi Dettling, who's also a sophomore, is performing for the second time and enjoys putting on a production.

"I've been interested in acting since I was in fifth grade, but I never had a chance to do it until recently," he said. "The more you do it, the less stage fright you have."

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