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Gig&Tell: Missoula Children's Theatre

  • An Incredible Life Chapter, But Just One Please    
    06/29/2016  11:22pm

    I came here to make a post about my time with MCT and found many more like it. I did a three month summer contract and I learned A TON. It was an amazing live chapter, as I stated in the title, and I learned invaluable skills, made lifelong friends, and became a better theatre-artist and human. I learned about nearly every facet of what it takes to put on a show, and my theatre-stamina went through the roof. I got to see new places. I got to drive a tractor and shoot a gun. I got to taste fried bull testicles. It was crazy and awesome.

    That said, I made almost no money and the job is HARD. It's hard enough living out of a suit case, but living out of a suit case and confined to a little red truck for a minimum of three months, while making nearly nothing can be SUPER. DUPER. TOUGH. Fortunately my tour partner and I loved each other, but not every duo is so lucky. I don't imagine I'll rejoin the ranks of the MCT TAD's anytime soon, but I know many who do.

    This is going to be a LOT to read but trust me, I wish someone would have taken the time to explain all of this to me before I had signed on with Missoula:

    I am currently on my second tour as a Tour Actor/Director (TAD) with MCT. There are a lot of pros and some considerable cons to working with this company, and they really do vary based on how long you tour, what region, who your partner is, what season it is, etc.

    There are 3, 5, 8, and 12 month tours. The 3 month would probably be the safest bet to choose if you are unsure at all whether or not this job may be for you; the summer tour tends to fly by and be the more laid-back and fun tour- especially compared to tours during the school year. That being said, the tour office tries their hardest to make it clear that this job is NOT for everyone, and they want you to be completely sure that you will be up for the challenge. At their various conference auditions/interviews they do a really good job at giving a detailed, accurate explanation of what the job entails and what they are looking for. If you are at all hesitant about working with kids everyday, traveling (ESPECIALLY driving) long hours, only making $350 a week, or having to stay in random people's homes each week, then I would suggest looking elsewhere.

    The job is an awesome opportunity to travel to places you probably wouldn't have a reason to otherwise. For the most part, depending on what region you are touring, MCT brings you to small towns and typically ones that have been hosting TADs for at least a few years. You'll either stay with a "homestay": a family that lives in the community, or a hotel. Over the summer hotels are much more likely, and during fall or winter/spring homestays are more likely. There are good and bad things about each. In hotels you'll have your own bathroom, privacy, and won't have to worry about things like not having any of your belongings spread around the room, making the bed every morning, not leaving your stuff in the bathroom, etc. With homestays, you never know what you're going to get. I have had super awesome families, but then plenty of the other TAD's I know have had homestays where they are not allowed to use the kitchen/appliances or any other rooms but their bedrooms (no, seriously some people are that crazy), TADs have had homestays just enter the bedroom without knocking while they were changing clothes or using the bathroom, or woken them up at like 7am for no reason. But sometimes it is really nice if you get a cool homestay family/host and they make you dinner, are nice to talk to, show you around town, let you use their kitchen or laundry, etc. My very first week ever of touring I had the best possible homestay; they were SO nice and we stayed in their huge guesthouse alone with wifi, laundry, full kitchen, two big bedrooms, cable TV, and a nice full bathroom. So it really just varies from place to place.

    Like I said before, you start at $350 a week flat rate, and while that might be more than some summer stock or other non-union gigs, it is not a whole lot for the work you do. This job is HARD. Very, very hard and tiring and at times incredibly frustrating because you and your tour partner are solely responsible for how each week goes down, regardless of what circumstances you are under. You do have the opportunity to make a *little* more by selling t-shirts and digital music cards, but you and your partner literally each will get $1.50 for each shirt you sell. Not kidding. And before you leave for tour you sign a contract stating that you both are legally liable for whatever happens to those shirts, so if for some reason they were to get damaged or lost or stolen, you both will be responsible for paying MCT back for each shirt. That's $16 per shirt, and you are usually traveling with about 100-120 shirts if you keep your inventory up. You are also responsible for your unbooked weeks, meaning weeks that you don't work because they couldn't find a town to send you to for whatever reason. They give you a $325 "per diem" for those unbooked weeks, but you will find that booking round-trip flights and paying for gas to/from the airport or wherever you decide to go and paying to park the truck somewhere for a week adds up to WAY more than $325.... so that part sucks and we know it won't change anytime soon. Also, some tours have more unbooked weeks than others, and they fall wherever they fall so you might have a few consecutive weeks, you might have a week on-week off-week on-week off cycle for quite a while, or you might have literally one week off for the entire tour. Sometimes just having one ends up being much better because then you don't have to worry about finding places to stay or flights to book for each of those weeks, and in the long run it can be much less expensive and stressful for you.

    Now, as for the most important part: the kids. Working with these kids is crazy. For the most part, it's incredible and rewarding and exhausting and fun and hilarious and frustrating all at once. But let me say-
    if you do not absolutely love kids, then DO NOT TAKE THIS JOB. DON'T. You will be absolutely miserable, we have seen it happen too many times before, and you will end up quitting and burning a bridge with this company. Yes the kids are always vastly different each week, sometimes they are super smart and fun and talented and then sometimes they are satan's spawn... you just have to know that you are patient enough and fully capable of working with kids. During training you will be taught every single thing you need to know in order to teach the show to the kids, and once you learn it you cannot deviate from it. For me personally, that was comforting to know, especially at first, because then I knew exactly what to teach and how to teach it, and what was expected of me. It's scary and difficult for the first week or two, but trust that it gets so much easier and once you are completely memorized and familiar with your show, it can become really fun to teach the kids. The more comfortable you are with it, the more comfortable they will be also and the faster they will learn. It also gets fun because you can add "freckles" (like extra stuff that is not written in the script) to make the show funnier or show off the kids' talents. You'll learn all this in training.

    Another thing to consider is how your mental health and whether you are introverted or extroverted. I say this because you have to realize that you are going to be around kids all day, around their parents all day, around your contact all day, in schools or theatres full of people all day, in a small town all week, in which you drive around in a literal billboard (the truck is bright red and says MISSOULA CHILDREN'S THEATRE allll over it) so no matter where you go literally everyone knows who you are and they are all watching your every move. Sounds creepy, I know, but it's reality. So you have to be very careful how you dress, how you speak and what you say, what you do, where you go, how you drive even, all of that. And you have to be "on" 24/7. Unless you are staying in a hotel room and have time in the day to stay in it and relax, you have to have your personality turned all the way up to 100 constantly. It can be so freaking draining and really damaging to your mental health depending on what kind of person you are. At the end of the day, MCT relies on its' reputation, and everything you do reflects back onto them... so there will always be this underlying pressure about that.

    There is also your physical health to consider- the varying schedules, long travel hours, weather in all different places, being around tons of kids all week, and switching between performing and directing can have a huge effect on your body. Especially if you are a woman, the music in each show is written for a man to sing- so personally I have felt that my voice is getting damaged by the way the music is written and the fact that in my respective show, the TAD role sings basically each entire song by themselves. While having the opportunity to perform in this job is great, you have to be very careful to take care of yourself while doing it.

    I could go on forever, but I will say this- Missoula Children's Theatre is an amazing company. Once you become a TAD, you will always be a TAD and even if you decide to only tour once or only for a short time, you will always be welcomed back. The home office staff are just the best people and they genuinely care about you and become your lifeline and your family while you are on the road. As much as I love these kids and the hilarious and sweet memories they have given me, my absolute favorite moments of working for MCT happened in Missoula during training while I was prepping at the actual theatre. The staff have all toured before, so they know exactly what you are going through at any moment. They are there to support you and help you in any way that they can, and the company truly carries out an awesome mission. So overall there is a LOT to consider, but I hope maybe this can help you make a more informed decision. Peace and blessingz, y'all.

    02/26/2018  12:05am
  • Loved it!    
    06/06/2015  12:31pm

    I spent 15 months touring with MCT, and I really did love it. It's not for everyone, as mentioned in other reviews, but for the right people, it's a pretty incredible job.

    The travel opportunities alone are amazing. I saw and experienced so much of the USA. You and your partner are in charge of driving from town to town, but it makes for a really cool road trip that you can (within reason) customize to see some pretty cool places along the way. I also had the chance to spend a summer in Europe and spring break in Bahrain with the company-- all expenses (other than food) paid.

    Housing is always provided-- and you'll ALWAYS have your own room whether it's in a hotel or with a host family.

    The money is decent considering that you have really no expenses other than your food. I was able to save a nice chunk of cash!

    Everyone who works in the "home office" is wonderful. They have all worked as tour actors with the company, so they truly understand what it's like out there. I always felt very supported and appreciated, even from thousands of miles away. It's very much an open door policy with these folks, and they want to help.

    If you love kids, love travel, have an easy going demeanor, like meeting new people, and are not in it for the "fame," DEFINITELY take the job. It was one of the best choices I've ever made.

  • Best Job I Never Want To Do Again    
    03/26/2015  10:09pm

    Pros: Great what you do for kids.

    Cons: Company definitely is making a hell of alot of money and not paying what it should to the people earning the money for them.

    Conclusion: Do the job only if you can focus on the altruistic side of things.

  • Wonderful job for the right person.    
    03/29/2012  12:18am

    I really really enjoyed my experience with MCT. I will be the first to admit that it's not a job for everyone - you need to be really flexible and super passionate about working with kids. But if you are, it'll be a fantastic adventure.

    You travel with a partner to a different city each week. You alternate acting/directing duties with a cast of local kids. Oh yeah, and you teach them the whole show in five days.

    You have per diem and housing provided each week (sometimes it's a hotel, sometimes a homestay - both have their pros and cons). You travel in a pick-up truck, so be prepared for lots of driving. You live in a dorm while you're training in Missoula. Travel is not covered (which, honestly, is the only negative thing I have to say about them).

    Pay is not great but livable while you're on the road. I was able to save up enough to cover several months rent in NYC.

    Everyone on staff is sweet, professional, and truly dedicated to doing good work. My time there was a really special experience.

    I just finished a year on the road with MCT and I have to say I really enjoyed the experience. I will also say, though, that you have to know what you're getting into and you have to be the right person for the job.

    The above poster pretty much had the general outline of the job set. In a sentence, you and your tour partner drive from town to town in a pickup truck and teach local kids a show over the course of a week. More specifically: You arrive in a town on Sunday, meet the kids on Monday, audition them all (we had anywhere from 17 kids all the way up to 150 kids on my tour) in 2 hours, cast them, and immediately start rehearsal. You have 2 more hours on Monday and then 4 hours of rehearsal on T, W, Th, and F. Then, you have one or two performances on Saturday depending on what the town wants. As soon as the last show is over, you pack up the truck and drive to the next place on Sunday to start it all over. In addition to the show itself, you also perform Workshops, usually in schools, during the days. It's a whirlwind, for sure, but you do have a chance for some downtime if a town wants their performances on Friday- then you get all of Saturday off! This happens occasionally. You also have a chance for a break if a week is unbooked, which happens relatively often. You also get vacations around the holidays and between tours (there's Summer, Fall, and Winter/Spring tour).

    One TAD (Tour Actor/Director) performs in the show while the other is backstage to help maintain sanity backstage - except if an important cast member drops out or you have too few actors to fill the roles, in which case both TADs can perform. Usually teams will alternate who performs, so you get to be onstage every other week. The job is obviously about much more than performing, though. You carry the show. You are the director, stage manager, actor, running crew, stagehands, makeup artist, costume staff, financial book keeper, everything. You have to deal with financial paperwork weekly to get reimbursed for expendables, you unload/put up the set and other equipment and re-load it every week, you do all the show laundry every week, etc. It sounds like a lot, but after a while it all really becomes part of the rhythm of a normal week.

    Working with MCT is a great way to explore the country, and even to go abroad! Usually you have to work for the company for a year before they'll really send you international, but on my tour I did have an opportunity to fly to Alaska with my show, which was SO COOL. I got to see Mt. Rushmore, I got to lie on the beach in Texas, I got to see the Redwood Forests in California. It was an amazing year.

    The pay is not great, but if you have your expenses covered at home (GET A SUBLETTER), you'll be fine. You get a monthly salary, a weekly per diem, and a bonus based on how many weeks you've successfully completed. The home staff is largely totally awesome and will do whatever they can to help you out: I had to leave the tour for 2 separate weeks to be in 2 separate weddings, and they helped me make it happen by finding Fill-Ins to take my place.

    Maybe most importantly, though, MCT brings theater to a lot of places where there's no chance for the kids to experience the arts at all. I went to a town in Montana with 400 people where we were the school play. I went to a town in Washington with 200 people that had just started a music program in 2011. BTW, there's a documentary called "The Little Red Truck" that is a behind-the-scenes look at what MCT does; I'd recommend watching that for more info. You really feel like you're doing something important when you work with MCT. You and your work are valued and respected. If you have the opportunity to work with MCT and you think it could be a good fit for you, do it!

    05/11/2012  12:05am

    Wow sorry, that was long. But MCT is awesome!

    05/11/2012  12:05am

    I was suppose to do a year tour with Missoula.

    I signed a letter of intent then TWO months later I got the contract which as clauses not explained in the letter of intent.

    I turned it down because they're allowed to fire you with a month's notice but if you quit you have to give them two months PLUS be financially responsible for your replacement.

    They aren't paying enough to be responsible for someone else to take your place. I.E., paying for your replacements travel and hotel to get where you are. PLUS I felt that I'd spend all my money on flights home during the breaks. - they actually told me that I should spend Christmas in Missoula. Like really????

    I maybe would have done the contract if I was offered the summer. But not a year.

    You have nothing going for you at ALL in NYC - no work, no lease, no agent, and you like kids and wanna direct? Take the job.

    09/18/2012  10:19pm

    Missoula Children's Theatre has really set up a great company. All of their staff are previous Tour Actor/Directors (TADs) who have done the job before, and they always have the answer to every "what if" scenario. It's a fantastic community to come back to at the end of every seasonal tour.

    Although performing is part of the job, it really is a small part. The vast majority is teaching/directing. Weeks will be very up and down. You'll have times with amazingly well-behaved and talented kids and times when you're on a military base and you basically serve as a way for kids to do something for 2 hours a day. The driving can be long hours, but you can experience some really awesome parts of the country you've never seen before.

    The pay wasn't stellar, but I saved a lot of money on the road by grocery shopping and not indulging in expensive hobbies when in towns. I was basically able to balance out my student loans, plus have some money on the side.

    If you'd like to try it, I would say apply for the summer tour, which is only 3 months. Otherwise, there are 5, 8, and 12 month contracts.

    08/21/2013  12:45pm