Students at Hilton Head Elementary School got a chance this week to put a new twist on an old classic: The Tortoise and The Hare.
About 60 students participated in the Missoula Children's Theater, which travels the country producing musicals that cast local children. At Hilton Head Elementary, the students are performing "The Tortoise Verses the Hare," which follows the animals on their race.
It's a whirlwind program -- the students auditioned Tuesday and will perform today. In between there's been several hours of rehearsals as students work to quickly memorize lines, songs and choreography.
It's the first time many of the students have been involved in theater.
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And they're loving it.
"I like how it all comes together to make a pretty show, like what's on TV," 7-year-old Mary Grace Copeland said.
The play retells Aesop's fable, but with a different message. In the play, the mammals and the reptiles don't get along. But when a little bunny, played by Copeland, gets lost, the animals must work together to find her.
"They have to understand that they're all friends and not to hate each other," Copeland said.
There's more to learn than the play's message, though.
Treva Kent, an art teacher at the school, helped bring Missoula to Hilton Head after seeing the tour in action in her former home in Virginia. She said she can tell already the students are getting a boost in self-esteem.
"There are some kids that are so quiet that you can't believe they're auditioning," Kent said. "And then you see those kids come alive. It's amazing. It's always shocking to see who comes out of their shell."
They're putting in a lot of hard work, too. Nine-year-old Miley Ray, who plays Paulie, has been practicing her lines at home, as well as at rehearsals. Remembering them has been the hardest part, she said, but she has enjoyed trying out a Brooklyn accent.
Edward Maxted-Soresen, 9, who plays Welsley, said the hard work is necessary. Each cast member has to learn his or her part for the production to come together.
"If you work hard and think right, you'll get everything perfectly accomplished," Maxted-Soresen said.
Those sorts of life lessons are the ones the Missoula directors hope to impart.
"I'm not here how to teach a kid how to be the next Meryl Streep because 99 percent of them won't study theater," director John Thomas-Appling said. "Most of them will be businessmen who one day have to give a speech. And they'll have this in their belt. They'll know they can get up in front of people and perform."
Their week of rehearsals ends today with performances at 2 and 6 p.m. at the school. Admission is $3. On Sunday, Thomas-Appling and fellow director Megan Willshire move on to another town. But they hope what the students learned here will stay behind.
"It's a week of their lives, but they're changed forever," Thomas-Appling said.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.