Not many 17-year-olds can say that they've had the chance to write an article for Playbill.com. In fact, not very many people ever can say that they've gotten such a marvelous opportunity, so when I was approached with the possibility of being able to do so, I couldn't have been more excited.
My assignment was simple. In basic terms I was told, "Enjoy yourself." I didn't exactly know what to expect, but I had a good feeling and high optimism after just a couple minutes at the Junior Theater Festival Jan. 19-20 in Atlanta, GA, presented by iTheatrics and Atlanta's Theater of the Stars.
JTF is geared mostly toward middle school students, but it even welcomes attendees as young as eight years old. The festival celebrates the talent and the love of theatre that every single person I met over the course of the weekend held in abundance. Coming from a school of the arts myself, I can happily say I was more blown away by the talent and dedication of kids several years younger than me.
The festival is open to any community, after-school and in-school theatre group that has performed — or is planning to perform — a Broadway JR or KIDS collection show, which are licensed through Music Theatre International. Each group performs a 15-minute excerpt for a panel of judges who are all industry professionals. Following the performance, the students receives critiques from the judges, which more than likely end with praise. I didn't see a single performance which I would consider to be anything less than praiseworthy, and the judges agreed with me in their short speeches to the kids following each performance. It was extremely evident from day one that these kids were beyond talented.
On the first day of my attendance I spent the majority of my time integrated with the kids and teachers of Theatre Under the Stars of Houston, TX. They had prepared an excerpt from Godspell JR. Following their incredible performance in front of the adjudicators, one of the judges even said, "I have no fear for the future of Broadway." This was an incredibly emotional moment for the kids of TUTS, as well as myself, and the choreographer and director, both of whom were high school students. Later, the students were taken into a private room to discuss with one of the festival's representatives what it was like to perform for Broadway professionals and how they felt during, and after, the performance. It was a completely new experience for a large majority of the kids, and brought back personal memories of my first time performing for a large group of people, and how good it felt to be commended for my work on stage.
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