Timothy Allen McDonald, founding chairman of iTheatrics and the Junior Theater Group, is joined at the 2015 festival (#JTF15) by Megan Hilty (Wicked, "Smash"), Lilla Crawford (Annie, "Into the Woods"), Luca Padovan (Newsies), Philip McAdoo (The Lion King, Rent), Disney Theatrical Group president and producer Thomas Schumacher, Oscar-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez ("Frozen") and Tony-nominated composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, Dogfight, James and the Giant Peach).
"The 2015 Junior Theater Festival is our tenth festival. From the beginning we have designed this event to shine a spotlight on the importance of young people having access to quality musical theater programs," said founding chairman McDonald in a previous statement. "Our JTF audience continues to inspire us. At the festival and at home, these teachers and students encourage each other to find more and more creative ways to tell their musical theater stories and build better and better programs. Furthermore, they create a groundswell of support and appreciation for the arts across the nation. Their energy, commitment and passion are thrilling."
Produced by the Junior Theater Group in partnership with iTheatrics, a leading educational theatre company that creates innovative experiences and products for the public and private sector, the Junior Theater Festival is the world's largest festival celebrating young people and the transformative power of musical theatre.
This year's title sponsors are Music Theatre International (MTI), Disney Theatrical Group and Playbill. The Junior Theater Festival was founded in 2003. In 2010 the festival became an annual event.
Schumacher will offer an interactive presentation about Disney's The Lion King stage musical for the festival's "Direct From Broadway" program. The Lion King recently achieved the most successful box-office total of any work in any media in entertainment history. The 2015 Junior Theater Festival marks 10 years since Disney Theatrical Group launched its library of musical theatre titles for middle and elementary school-aged performers at the 2005 Junior Theater Festival. The festival will honor the milestone with a special student performance of Disney songs during the festival's New Works Showcase Jan. 17.
Hilty will perform a concert for all attendees Jan. 18. The program will feature songs from her Broadway and television career and album "It Happens All The Time." Crawford, Padovan, Anderson-Lopez and Lopez will talk candidly about their experiences as professionals during the festival's "Pathways to Success" Q&A session, and Anderson-Lopez and Lopez will also present a musical number.
Broadway composers Pasek and Paul and performer McAdoo will serve as guest adjudicators. In the spirit of celebration and not competition, each group at the festival will perform a selection from a musical for a panel of theatre professionals and will receive feedback about their creativity, engagement in the performance, understanding of the material and connection to the lyrics and movement.
At the New Works Showcase, four JTF groups will perform selections from new musicals that will soon be made available for licensing by MTI. Play on Players (Duluth, GA) will perform Elf JR.; Ohlook Performing Arts Center (Grapevine, TX) will perform Singing in the Rain JR.; Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School's BRAVO! program (Oak Park, IL) will perform Roald Dahl's James and The Giant Peach JR.; and Theatre Under the Stars (Houston, TX) will perform selections from Disney's The Lion King JR. and Disney’s The Lion King KIDS. Students will also take part in a very special performance honoring the tenth anniversary of the launch of Disney's titles of musicals for elementary and middle school performers.
Additional Junior Theater Festival celebrity guests include MTI CEO Freddie Gershon, a 2012 Tony honor recipient for Excellence in the Theatre; Jacob Brent (Cats); designer Theresa Squire (The Lieutenant of Inishmore); conductor, music director and pianist Rick Hip-Flores (We Will Rock You U.S. tour); and artistic directors from leading children's theatres, Michael Bobbitt of the Adventure Theatre, Rosemary Newcott of the Alliance Theatre and Ernie Nolan of Emerald City Theatre.
Eight educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country will be selected for the sixth annual "The Freddie G Fellowship," in which the teachers will receive an all-expense-paid trip to New York City to collaborate with each other and work one-on-one with Broadway greats. Each winning teacher will also receive a $5,000 grant to put towards his or her theatre program. The event is sponsored by MTI's Freddie ("G") Gershon and his wife Myrna Gershon.
Gershon conceived The MTI Broadway Junior Collection (featuring 30- and 60-minute musicals for young performers) in 1994, and has had nearly 300,000 performances since its inception. Beginning in 2010, the festival has paid tribute to his leadership and dedication by renaming its student awards for excellence in theater "The Freddie G's."
There will be a tech track, in which students interested in technical theatre train with professionals. A select group of these student technicians will be invited to work side by side with festival staff in running the tech for main stage festival events. Each group may also nominate up to four students to take part in the "Tech Olympics," in which students complete an obstacle course of technical theatre activities – ranging from performing a quick change and focusing a light to pre-setting props and taping the floor – within the fastest time.
The festival will award the second annual Sharidan Giles Technical Theater Award Scholarship to the technical theatre student who most exemplifies commitment, curiosity, collaboration and creativity in technical theatre.
Playbill will present The Playbill Community Service Award, created to acknowledge all of the ways young people at the Junior Theater Festival are giving back across the country. All groups attending the Junior Theater Festival are encouraged to document their organization's community service projects. These activities could be anything from hosting a weekly afterschool program for under-served students to holding a food drive or performing at an assisted-living facility. Five finalists were chosen by a panel of adjudicators and highlighted on Playbill.com, where the public votes on its favorite. The organization receiving the most votes will win a $1,000 cash prize to support its continued charitable efforts. Playbill will also present their educational resources — including PlaybillEDU.com, a complete guide to undergraduate music, dance and theatre programs around the country; and PLAYBILLder.com, a DIY program maker allowing schools to personalize an authentic Playbill online — to the students and teachers.
This year 50 additional teachers will travel to the festival without groups to take part in the professional development track. This series of workshops empowers teachers and professionals to present musicals in their communities and offers educators the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to grow their program in every possible way.