Montana Tech community members take the stage in Matilda

Grant Wallace on stage

The students of Montana Tech know Research Associate Grant Wallace as a professional materials scientist focused on rare earth element recovery, but what many do not know is that Dr. Wallace also has an artistic side.

“I did a lot of musical theater and speech and debate in high school, before I came to Montana Tech to be an engineer,” Wallace said.

When Wallace was approached by Reanna Lange, a former Montana Tech employee who serves on the board of the Mother Lode Theater, about auditioning in the Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre’s fall production of “Matilda,” a musical, he was receptive to the idea.

Wallace was cast as Mrs. Honey’s father, an escapologist. As part of the show Wallace donned a fantastic costume, complete with a cape and a top hat, and sang and acted.

“I had a lot of fun,” Wallace said. “They are a really good group.”

Wallace’s colleagues sang praises for the production.

“I really enjoyed seeing Matilda,” Dr. Teagan Leitzke said. “I went with a group of people from Tech to support Grant in the musical. I knew Grant had done theater in the past, but I had never seen him perform before and it was fun to get to see another side of him. The musical was very well executed with many talented actors, actresses, and musicians.”

Materials Science Ph.D. student Katie Schumacher watched the show with her family.

“My parents brought my niece and nephew over from Lolo to see Grant in the play for my niece’s 9th birthday,” Schumacher said. “I thought it was important for the kids to see that you don’t have to choose between STEM and the arts, you can do both. My niece thought the play was amazing, and loved seeing someone she knew onstage. She was shocked that Grant could not only play the banjo, but sing too! She did complain that he didn’t play the banjo during the play.”

The Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre is a community-based nonprofit that allows school children ages 7-18 to produce several theatrical shows each year.

“The kids do most of the acting,” Wallace said. “They aren’t just in the show, though. They take sets down and put sets up. Pretty much everything backstage is being done by kids. They are fun, but they are all very serious about the production, too.”

Wallace rehearsed 2-3 nights per week during the fall semester. Another Montana Tech instructor spent even more time on the production. Fred Crase, choir director, is a longtime contributor to the organization. He’s been involved in most musical productions since 2016, and his wife, Elizabeth Crase, is the executive artistic director. Crase’s role varies. Sometimes he teaches music, but other times he records and/or rearranges music to better fit the production.

Matilda was a major project for Crase.

“Rather than using the provided music from the licensing company they asked me to re-record the music and also be a live musical performer, so I spent a little over a month re-orchestrating and re-recording all of the instruments myself  --I couldn’t resist adding some heavy metal flair to much of it --as well as learning some pieces to perform live,” Crase said.

Much of Crase’s work was done by sampling engine, played via keyboard. He recorded flute, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, sax, a complete jazz brass section, solo cello, full string section, and orchestral percussion this way.

Crase also actually played piano, organ, synthesizer, guitars, bass guitar, and drums for the basis of many of the tracks.

 “Altogether, I think I recorded 14 or 15 sampled orchestral instruments and six in which I recorded my actual performances on the instruments,” Crase said. “I stayed more or less faithful to the original score, but again I did add some metal influence. Some of the music practically begged for it.”

The Orphan Girl Children’s Theater can always use volunteers. Apart from the more theatrical roles, there are opportunities to help design and build sets. Wallace thinks it’s the perfect fit for student groups needing some community service hours.

 “I think there are some secret theater kids in the engineering department that would definitely get some enjoyment out of being involved,” Wallace said.