Created and hosted by Music Theatre International chairman and CEO Freddie Gershon, the annual event will afford teachers a fully-funded weekend in New York City where they will receive instruction from award-winning Broadway professionals in a series of seminars and master classes. "Broadway Welcomes America's Teachers at the First Freddie G Theatre Experience" will take place over the July 16-18 weekend.
Gershon, who created MTI Education in 1995 to develop and create age-appropriate material and adapt Broadway musicals for young performers, sees the intensive as a way to give back. "It's been gratifying for me," he said. "We started the Broadway Junior Project, which was created not as a business, but as a way of introducing a new generation to musical theatre. It was a response to a very poignant appeal by Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents [who asked], 'Where is the audience coming from for Broadway?'"
With more than 50,000 Broadway Junior productions having been produced, "The Freddie G Experience" will be a way for teachers to be honored for their efforts. "The teachers should be recognized because they are the unsung heroes. The kids get applause," Gershon explained. "It's very difficult to be a teacher and put on a show. You have to stay after school, and many times you don't get any extra point, extra credits or extra money. These teachers are illustrative of teachers who are inspirations, who are really the defining force in people's lives."
The participating teachers were selected during the Junior Theatre Festival, which was held in Atlanta this past January. The annual festival is the largest of its kind for stage works geared toward young performers.
Six of the selected teachers represent a musical that was awarded the Outstanding Production Award during the January festival. The final two participating directors led groups which earned the Freddie G Broadway Junior Spirit Award (a top honor for school groups). The participants include Richard Hall (Social Circle Theater); Relana Gerami (Bay Area Theatre and Voice Academy); Aaron Goodson (Atlanta Charter Middle School); Nathan Gerrells (Dawson County Arts Council); Emily Moore (Boothbay Region YMCA); Tina Reynolds (Bravo Academy! Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School); Heather Taft (Ashevillie Arts Center); and Christie Jeter (Jeter Backyard Theatre).
Among the theatre folk who will share their skills are Hairspray writers Shaiman and Wittman (leading a process of writing musicals workshop), High School Musical and Big River revival director Calhoun (leading a directing intensive), and original A Chorus Line cast member and revival choreographer Lee (who will focus on choreographing for young performers).
On the technical end, Gershon has enlisted Tony-winning lighting designer Ken Billington (Chicago, Sweeney Todd), who will share tips on how to light productions with limited resources.
The weekend will also offer a first-look at Singin' In the Rain Jr., which MTI and iTheatrics are currently developing. A performance of the Disney musical Mary Poppins will be followed by a back-stage tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre.
In the end, Gershon hopes to send a message to schools across the country that "putting on a school musical is not a frivolous thing," he said. "It's a part of education. It's a character-building thing. It is building new audiences."