The Grand Valley theater major from Three Rivers is spending a year touring the United States with the Missoula Children's Theatre.

The Missoula program is the largest touring children's theater program in the United States. This season MCT will send out 27 teams to put on approximately 900 full-scale musicals. Within a few short weeks, Larink applied, auditioned and was accepted.

After a mere eight days of training at the home base in Montana, Larink was given an acting partner, a pickup truck full of costumes, scenery, sound and lighting equipment, 60 copies of the script and a list of schools in 40 cities around the country. A cell phone and laptop computer are her links to friends, family, and her fiance back home.

She has agreed to share excerpts from her journal:

Today was the third day of training... we have learned all of the blocking for the entire show for all 60 characters and all the songs and choreography. I did a few practice runs this morning then after lunch I taught 13 of the other tour actors.

As a professional actor/director, Larink will be in a new location each week, where she will work to produce a musical with about 50 school children from kindergarten through 12th grade. In five days, she and her partner will audition, cast, rehearse and direct an hour-long production of Alice in Wonderland. When they are done, it is on to the next town, a new group of students and another production.

"We'll end up doing the same musical about 40 times in a year," Larink said. "Every other week I take a supporting role as the White Rabbit, so it is an opportunity to both direct and act."

Though her original plans for college did not include theater, she became hooked shortly after an audition for Mother Courage in her freshmen year. She quickly snagged lead roles in other productions, including Big Love, gained experience directing in the Performance Studio Series and learned about touring with the "Bard-to-Go" trip to Jamaica.

"As far as I know, Amy is Grand Valley's first Missoula participant," said Karen Libman, associate professor of communications. "She really utilized every aspect of our program and gave 100 percent to whatever she did. Students like her don't come along too often."

Larink credits Grand Valley with preparing her for the intensity of the real world. Applying for the Missoula Tour included a trip to Memphis for the United Professional Theatre Auditions. Criteria on the application for her position included the expected performance and communication skills, but also listed as mandatory, "...physical and emotional stamina, impeccable maturity and a strong sense of human kindness."

Certain things they didn't tell us in training were found out in rude awakenings; little kids don't stay put in one place and sometimes say, "I don't want to do that." One time, we had to break up a fist fight in the boys' locker room. When Diana went in to cue a character, she found Humpty Dumpty pinned up against the wall in a shower. It's super intense and takes just about every ounce of energy I have, but I am so tired when I get done, that I don't have much time to feel homesick.

It hasn't been all work and no play. Despite the grueling pace, Larink and her partner on the road, Diana, have managed to take in some of the local sights. While in Loveland, Colorado, they went to the Greeley Stampede with a host family. They saw lots of cowboys and Josh Gracin, the country singer who was the Marine on American Idol. Another afternoon, they took a three-hour hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. In Grand Junction, Colorado, they went to a rodeo and watched "mutton busting," which involves 5-, 6- and 7-year-old kids riding on angered sheep, getting thrown to the ground, and loving it.

There have been plenty of lessons learned about the rigors of a traveling production. Brighton, Colorado, provided a gym instead of a theater. After spending three hours setting up all of the lighting, the young women realized their 6 p.m. performance would still have summer daylight streaming through the giant windows.

Another town booked their show for the week of July 4. Only 20 kids auditioned for the 56 roles, so they had to double cast many of the children. Larink played the Queen of Hearts and Alice's older sister, Margaret, because there weren't any kids over the age of 13 in this group. By contrast, in Loveland, 150 kids auditioned.

Week five brought them to Taos, New Mexico. Before getting down to work, the partners checked into a funky little bed and breakfast called the Laughing Horse Inn, with a loft and a TV stuck in the ceiling. While freshening up, Diana thought she punctured her ear drum with a Q-tip and Larink had to rush her to the emergency room.

Then I had to race across town to the theater and start the auditions on my own, but I got lost and couldn't find the place. Driving our truck with 2,000 pounds of costumes and scenery through a hilly town didn't mix. So, I got out and just started wandering the streets asking everyone I could find how to get to the auditorium ... and for some reason no one knew where it was. So, I finally found it after walking around for about 10 minutes, I'm near tears, my partner is deafened by a Q-tip, I have exactly two minutes before the audition is supposed to begin, and all the scripts for the kids are back in the truck, which is parked about five blocks away.

Luckily, Diana called me and said that she was OK and free to go. I sent our contact to go and pick her up. After auditioning kids for 45 minutes on my own, Diana came back. Things were running pretty smoothly, so I took off to get the truck with our scripts before auditions ended ... only to find a $3 parking fee written on a post-it note stuck to the windshield. I had no idea to whom was I supposed to pay this, and neither did our contact, so I didn't. But the rest of the week was uneventful.

Costumes have also provided a fair number of challenges. One time, Larink's furry White Rabbit costume was sweat-soaked after a first performance. Diana got the great idea to put it in the dressing room refrigerator. When they went back for the second show after dinner, the costume was still wet, but felt better because it was cold.

Nothing like 60 kids in polyester running around a 95-degree auditorium in New Mexico. Once a pair of girl's tights got stuck in the washer's agitator. When we pulled it out, one leg was about two feet longer than the other.

Larink said there isn't much down time, even though they only work five hours a day with the kids. It seems there is always something to do for the next day, or promotional stuff the town has lined up, or laundry, or paperwork. They call the home office once a week to let them know everything is going well, but the day-to-day tasks are handled on their own.

"So, if a costume gets ripped, you mend it," she said. "If you hit a bird with your truck (yeah, that just happened about three hours ago) you have to wash the feathers and goo off. There are a million random things that happen and you just have to roll with it because the day's agenda will change probably five or six times before you even leave rehearsal."

It helps to have a sense of humor.

On the plus side, aside from all the practical experience and sights to see, are the interesting people they meet. Larink's last dispatch was written as they headed toward Sturgis, South Dakota. They were warned that it might take an extra couple of hours to drive through town because 50,000 bikers will be there for the biggest motorcycle rally in the country.

With eight towns down and two to go for the summer, Larink said she is looking forward to three weeks off to relax in Michigan. Packed in her luggage will be some gifts for family and a few given to her by kids in the shows. Tucked between them is a list of 10 cities in the state of Washington. That's where she'll return to begin the fall leg of her tour, wiser for the experiences and anticipating even more.

Page last modified July 20, 2011