“There will be drama…and singing and dancing and jazz hands,” was one of the uniform t-shirts that the 20 young actors from Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre wore as they visited Atlanta, Ga. last weekend for the world’s biggest youth theatre convention, the Junior Theatre Festival which is presented annually by Musical Theatre International (MTI).
The local troupe presented musical selections from their fall show, “Music Man Jr.” Most of the students that attended the festival were cast members that participated in the show when it hit the Vern Riffe stage last October, but a few kids joined in that had participated in the theatre’s past shows.
The festival had plenty of activities and events planned for all of the students, but the goal of the trip was to get the professional insight of Broadway staff, to take classes and workshops taught by professionals and to introduce the children to an environment where they could meet other kids interested in musical theatre.
Actors Skylar Astin (“Pitch Perfect”, “Spring Awakening”), Briga Heelan (“Cougar Town”), and Joseph Ruelle (graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Vocal Performance), whom all acted in junior theater productions when they were younger, talked with students about their experiences transitioning into the professional world of performing. The MTI alumni have all made careers for themselves and really showed the young actors that hard work and dedication can pay off and a professional career in theatre is achievable.
“I think we went to be with our own kind and to really experience what other kids around the country are doing in musical theatre, which was phenomenal to see,” executive director of PAAC Becky Lovins said. “There were so many groups there with kids like our own that were working on the same type of shows and it was really neat to see the different levels and calibers of groups.”
The students performed in front of a panel of professional judges. Lovins said that the comments made by the judges were very constructive and more about teaching little methods of perfecting their art.
“They (the judging panel) had to really pick to find anything to really comment on,” Artistic Director Susan Foster said. “At one point the kids were just told to walk back to work more clearly on a hand motion.”
Performing took up very little time for the students, so they spent the rest of the weekend meeting people and enjoying shows.
“I think every kid had their own favorite part of the weekend,” Lovins said, “We got to see famous composer Alan Menken perform with the president of Disney Theatricals, we got to see the cast of Newsies, Pitch Perfect actor, Skylar Menken, went to a Disney dance party, and went to see Blue Man group. You could ask the kids what they enjoyed the most and everyone could say something different.”
With many activities planned, it was easy to miss one big event for another, but even with a full schedule, the students got to meet many professionals and get to enjoy the chance of a lifetime.
“I think the best part of the thing was getting to walk around and seeing all of these big Broadway people and get to talk and take pictures with them,” Foster said.
The 2013 Junior Theater Festival offered an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with thousands of others who share their passion for musical theater. In addition to presenting a 15-minute selection from a musical, both students and teachers participated in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gained from professional development, enjoyed theatrical fellowship, and attended a professional production of Blue Man Group at the fabulous Fox Theatre.
The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this program/organization with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. Locally, PAAC is supported by The Scioto Foundation, SOMC, Glockner’s, Shawnee State University, Fluor-B&W, King’s Daughter’s Medical Center, GE Aviation and over a dozen other local businesses and civic organizations. They support not only the Children’s Theatre, but the Education Series of live theatre presented at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts each year.
The previous year, Ivy Idzakovich, 13, received honors at the festival and went on to be chosen to be in the pilot workshop of Shrek Jr. in Atlanta and Legally Blonde Jr. in New York. Idzakovich will be participating in two more pilot productions this summer.
Following is the Portsmouth Area Arts Council & Children’s Theatre cast list for the 2013 Junior Theater Festival:
Adam Lucas, 13, 8th grade, West Portsmouth, Ohio
Ivy Idzakovich, 11, 6th grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Noah Lovins, 12, 7th grade, McDermott, Ohio
Anna Lovins, 9, 4th grade, McDermott, Ohio
Julianna Parlin, 9, 3rd grade, Wheelersburg, Ohio
Hannah Tussey, 13, 8th grade, Ironton, Ohio
Dylan Herrmann-Holt, 13, 8th grade, Ironton, Ohio
Nate Marcum, 13, 8th grade, Wheelersburg, Ohio
Matalyn McFarland, 11, 6th grade, Wheelersburg, Ohio
Hayleigh Downey, 12, 6th grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Jordan Willis, 12, 7th grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Teran Willis, 8, 3rd grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Bailey Hartlage, 14, 8th grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Baylee Martin, 11, 6th grade, South Webster, Ohio
Fletcher Holbrook, 12, 7th grade, New Boston, Ohio
Maggie Salmons, 14, 8th grade, Wheelersburg, Ohio
Ebbie Potts, 8, 3rd grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Cassidy Book, 13, 8th grade, Portsmouth, Ohio
Kenzie Mark, 10, 4th-grade, Wheelersburg, Ohio
Benjamin Herrmann-Holt, 8, 3rd grade, Ironton, Ohio