A group of thirteen students, their parents (now my friends) and our Playhouse Jr. instructors went to Atlanta to participate in the National Junior Theater Festival, an annual event produced by iTheatrics and the Theater of the Stars, that this year brought together sixty-five junior theater groups and schools from nineteen states. Each group was there to celebrate outstanding student musical theatre productions. Attending the event itself was a sensory explosion to my (aging) ears and eyes but coupled with the enthusiasm and exuberance of our students and what they were about to undertake, made this a not-to-miss event for any theater parent.
Our traveling Jr. thespians (one of the smaller groups to attend) was placed with seven other groups in the “green pod” where they performed Bugsy Malone Jr. in front of two professional theater trained adjudicators and a room full of theirs peers, family and friend supporters. I was so pleased when our students completed their performance and received their comments from the judges. From a parental viewpoint, my heart was filled with joy as you could tell that each of these students was proud of accomplishing something that just twenty minutes earlier they may not have thought they could do. This excellence was echoed in the responses that the judges gave to our group including the selection of Lily Bartleson and Jonathan Hutchins as 2012 All-Stars and Taylor Hutchison and Lauren Zitney being called back for the Musical Theater International Choreography DVD auditions which may take them to New York to be taught by Broadway choreographers! They’ll find out sometime in the spring if they’ve made the final cuts.
And that’s not all! On the final day of the Festival, the Parkway Playhouse Jr. program was presented with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting for their performance.
This award was given to only a select few of all the programs represented at the festival and indicated that our group was the best in the acting category from our pod. As a community, we should all be proud of them, the program and their future with the Playhouse! Congratulations to one and all!
But more important than the awards this group won was something that I experienced and did not expect. At almost every corner or hallway where we encountered a member of a “green pod” troupe, a compliment was paid on each other’s presentation from the first morning. And it wasn’t just a “good job” or “great play” but “I really enjoyed the way your hands moved during that first number” or “you really were able to explore that character.” Peer accolades; those comments that as adults we rarely hear from each other but value as the highest of compliments. And these kids meant every word. For the rest of the weekend, a sense of pride and accomplishment was present in each of our students. Deep inside, I think these young adults appreciated these commendations more than any hardware they could display on a shelf.
And as a parent, isn’t that self-esteem ultimately what we want for our children?
Gregory Stella, Theater Parent and Supporter of the Arts [and Arts Jr.]