Junior Theatre Festival

Y Arts takes Outstanding Performance honors at JTF

See the winning performance for yourself Saturday, Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. in the YMCA gym

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Eighteen Y Arts Youth Performers arrived at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta ready to perform and participate in the 2018 iTheatrics Junior Theatre Festival (JTF) Thursday, Jan. 11. This year, JTF Atlanta had 119 groups in attendance representing 26 states, the District of Columbia, and three countries. As the kids entered the Broadway Junior Theatre for the Festival Kick-Off, they joined almost 6,000 others in a weekend celebration of musical theatre.

At the festival, each group performed a 15-minute adjudication piece for festival judges. This year, our YArts Youth were judged by industry professionals David Rogers-Smith and Karma Camp. Rogers-Smith hails from Australia and his credits include over 2,500 performances as Ubaldo Piangi for the International and Australasian tours of The Phantom of the Opera, Valjean cover for the International tour of Les Miserables, and the Ziegfeld Tenor in Funny Girl, Forbidden Broadway. Camp is the Resident Choreographer at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre where she has just completed her 50th production. She is a multiple recipient and 10-time Helen Hayes award nominee for Theatrical Excellence. Camp is on staff with the Washington National Opera, and was the director/choreographer at Interlochen Arts Academy.

Under the direction of Emily Mirabile and assistant direction by Rick Hilscher and Jackie McLoon, Y Arts presented selections from “Seussical Junior.” The 15-minute piece included “Oh the Thinks You Can Think,” “Biggest Blame Fool,” “It’s Possible,” “Monkey Around/All For You” and “Green Eggs and Ham. “

The cast was made up of Hilscher (Cat in the Hat), Emerson Harris (Jojo), Aaron Densmore (Horton), McLoon (Sour Kangaroo), Sophia Mansfield (Baby Kangaroo), Kayleigh Tolley (Gertrude), Phoebe Cook (Mayzie), Sarah Harris (Mrs. Who), Ronan Cullina (Mayor of Who), and as the Wickershams/Ensemble: Ellie Hilscher, Spencer Pottle , Jordan Chamness, Katherine Tolley, Alicia Flis, Trey Tibbetts, Maeve Cullina, Aelia Russell and Josephine Shea.

The Y Arts team received a standing ovation and cheers following their performance. Camp remarked how they were “sensational!” and turned to the audience to talk about how these kids were headed to being triple threats. Rogers-Smith commented how much he loved the performance and that he had “directed Seussical many times and work-shopped “Seussical” many times and not once has there been good diction on ‘Think and think and think’ but with Y Arts there was!”

That afternoon, the team attended a music workshop led by Rogers-Smith. They learned “Rainbow Connection” which they later sang to the composer, Paul Williams. Rick Hilscher, Jackie McLoon, Spencer Pottle, Phoebe Cook, Sarah Harris, and Ronan Cullina were invited to be a part of the small ensemble who would lead this performance dedicated toWilliams.

While having a pizza party later that evening, Ronan Cullina came running into the room exclaiming, “We won!” At first the team didn’t believe it but after confirming it on the festival app, the celebrating commenced. The team was one of nine selected out of 119 groups as Outstanding Performance.

Director Mirabile recalled how everyone was so excited. There were smiles and tears from the performers and their parents. The best thing about this group though was that they would have been okay if they didn’t win,” Mirabile said. “It was the smallest group I have ever taken to the festival but their heart and talent shined in their performance and that is why they won. They worked together to create something very special and I am so proud and overjoyed that their hard work was rewarded.”

The team was then invited to perform a number from its piece on the main stage in front of 6,000 people! The judges picked “It’s Possible” because it was the number they felt showed the most “heart, creativity, energy and artistry.” The group then had to get up early on Sunday morning to tech the piece with iTheatrics Director of Programming Marty Johnson and then performed that evening.

Aaron Densmore (Horton) said “The adrenaline of performing in front of 6,000 people is a feeling that can’t be matched.”

“Getting to go and experience JTF for the first time and watch the excitement through our children’s eyes, fills you with so many emotions, including an overwhelming sense of pride,” Leah Plummer said of her daughter Sophia Mansfield.

Other festival highlights included Jackie McLoon and Rick Hilscher being chosen as festival All-Stars for the Y Arts team. They each performed a number on the main stage with other All-Stars. As one of the first directors to receive the Freddie G Award for Excellence in Directing back in 2009, Mirabile was brought up on the main stage to perform a routine to “Vogue” with other Freddie G recipients. Additionally, Aelia Russell and Trey Tibbetts were chosen to participate in the Broadway SLAM and performed on the main stage with students from other groups.

A most special moment for Mirabile was watching Rick Hilscher and Jackie McLoon receive awards for their Student Direction.

Jackie and Rick attended the first JTF with the first group I ever brought to JTF in 2008. They have come full circle,” an emotional Mirabile said. “They began with Outstanding Performance in “Godspell JR” at age 8 to ending with Outstanding Performance and Student Directing Awards with “Seussical JR” at age 18. These two have grown into mentors for the younger generation, not only at JTF, but as counselors at Theatre Camp and beyond.”

Also at the festival, the group enjoyed talk backs and performances by Paul Williams, Stephen Schwartz, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, Abigail A. Baird, Luca Padovan, Jodi Picoult, and Isabella Russo. The festival ended with Megan Hilty in concert. She was funny, talented and kind, a great example for all the youth in the audience and a perfect ending to a spectacular weekend in Atlanta.

Liza Maugham, Phoebe Cook’s grandmother, remarked, “I felt the enthusiasm all those young people had not only for their team, but for their peers as a whole. I love the message that differences count and should be valued. There’s so much I could say about Emily and her family and the experience they have given these kids.”

Rick Hilscher shared his feelings on his over 10 years in Y Arts: “I’ve always appreciated being surrounded by a community of people with similar passions and interests. It creates a unique and powerful environment that I, and all of our performers, have benefited from enormously.”

Come celebrate with Y Arts and see the award-winning performance on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Boothbay Region YMCA gym.

Interested in joining Y Arts? Interested in attending the festival? Contact Emily Mirabile at emirabile@brymca.org for information on joining the team. Y Arts will return to JTF in January 2020, but the team will continue to learn, grow and perform over the next two years.


Event Date: 
Sat, 02/03/2018 - 4:00pm