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Butte’s Orphan Girl Children's Theatre is turning 20 this year, and the organization is celebrating with an original play written by Artistic Director Jackie Freeman and Educational Director Elizabeth Crase.

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary, Freeman said she wanted to do a rendition of the very first play put on by the organization: the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”

But Freeman and Crase are putting their own creative spin on the classic fairy tale, setting the story in 1920s New York City, replete with dancing flappers, a sassy, boisterous speakeasy singer and an emperor who is king of Wall Street.

“There was an interesting power struggle in the 1920s,” said Freeman. “There were a lot of really wealthy people, but a lot of people were really bad off, and I think that plays in to having the emperor be a business man of that time and just never quite being satisfied with everything that he has.”

The play, opening March 1, has two casts of 34 youth actors, who will be starring side-by-side with five adult actors.

Freeman has been the theater’s artistic director for a year and a half. But many artistic directors came before her, Freeman and Crase said.

Boasting a small stage on the lower level of the Mother Lode Theatre, 316 W. Park St., the organization was founded in the late 1990s with the help of a $500,000 endowment from Butte residents Ann and Rose Busch. Since then, legions of young actors have graced the Orphan Girl stage.

Students like Butte High School's Ellie Boothe.

Boothe is the stage manager for The Emperor’s New Clothes, but the 16-year-old says she’s been participating in the youth theater for 8 years and has landed many acting roles, including in “Disney's Sleeping Beauty Kids” and “Drop Dead, Juliet!”

Boothe describes herself as a rambunctious spirit who likes to be the life of the party.

“It really gets me involved with exploring other things about myself that I haven’t yet discovered,” said Boothe when asked what she likes about acting. “And I get to learn about other people here as well and it makes you take a new view on things you didn’t before.”

Dylan McCumber, also a student at Butte High, said Orphan Girl helped him meet new people when his family moved to Butte a few years ago and is a place where he’s formed lasting friendships.

“It’s really helped me break out of my shell here and I’d like to think I’m pretty confident now,” said McCumber, who will be playing the lead character of James in the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” a former intern of the emperor who tricks the businessman into buying fake clothes.

As for Freeman and Crase, the two said the performing arts can provide kids with an opportunity to build skills like public speaking and reading for content while also giving students for whom a traditional academic setting may not be a good fit a time to shine.

“The skills that kids walk away with are valuable in school and in any career path they would choose,” said Crase.

Noting recent teen suicides in Butte, Freeman added that performing arts can help children express emotions in healthy ways. In addition, she said she hopes participating in youth theater creates life-long theater lovers.

“We’re creating theater patrons who are going to grow up and either patron the Mother Lode Theatre here in Butte and the Orphan Girl Theatre for years to come.”

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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