The stage at the Tucumcari High School Auditorium was a beehive of activity Tuesday afternoon: One group of children and adults worked to assemble a backdrop while another group struggled to stand a second backdrop up.
A third group of kids shot rubber bands at each other and a fourth watched everyone else.
But organizers say the end result will be a masterpiece performed twice Saturday: A slightly revamped version of Hansel and Gretel featuring local kids as the main actors.
Overseeing it all is the husband-wife team of Jonathan and Katie Brantley, members of the Missoula Children’s Theatre based in Missoula, Mont.
The Brantleys task even more difficult than getting the kids to set the stage: Turn 46 children into actors in a week’s time. But it’s a challenge they’ve met and overcome before.
“It’s a quick process,” Jonathan said. “It’s amazing how quick the kids pick this up.”
The set they built Tuesday afternoon was an example of how quickly they can work with limited and portable resources.
The entire set fits in the back of a little red Ford Ranger pickup, they said.
Jonathan said he’s been involved in theater most of his life and didn’t believe the set would fit in the truck at first.
“It’s interesting to watch us get it in there,” Katie said.
Along with the title characters, local kids play the parts of “nasties” — forest denizens at the beck and call of the Wildwood Witch, modern-day campers who somehow get lost in the woods and learn the real story of Hansel and Gretel, and a flock of Wallybirds.
Steve Stephenson, 13, will take the role of Hansel. He and the rest of the kids who gathered Monday morning had to line up according to their height, then read, sing and mimic the Brantleys.
After that, they began read throughs and separate groups split off to practice.
“(Wednesday) we’re working on stage and throw all the parts together,” he said.
While the Brantleys have some roles — Katie is the witch, for example — the main point of the Missoula Children’s Theatre is to teach the children life skills by having them involved, they said.
There will be two public performances of Hansel and Gretel. The first will be 3 p.m. Saturday and the second will follow at 7 p.m.
Adult tickets are $5 and children will be $2.50.
After Saturday’s performance, the Brantleys will have a week off before starting again at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis.