By Dawn Hatfield
GREENVILLE — For the first time, 15 young actors from Final Bow Center for Children’s Performing Arts traveled to Atlanta to take part in the 20th Anniversary of the Junior Theater Festival. More than 7,000 student performers representing 125 troupes from all across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe congregated in Georgia from Jan. 12 to 15 to celebrate the joy of theater.
Junior Theater Festival posted the following description on Facebook Jan. 16, “The Junior Theater Festival (JTF) is a weekend of musical theater mayhem dedicated to celebrating young people and musical theater! JTF [sponsored by Playbill, Disney Musicals, and Music Theatre International] brings together student musical theater troupes from all over the world… to perform fifteen minutes from a Broadway Junior show for adjudication by a panel of musical theater experts. The weekend also features professional development for teachers, workshops for students and parents, a New Works Showcase featuring new musical adaptations soon to be released, and concludes with a grand finale concert headlined by Broadway’s best!”
A highlight of the JTF ‘23 weekend was the opportunity for Final Bow Company cast members to perform a 15-minute segment of “Singin’ in the Rain, Jr.,” which they had been rehearsing for months. The show, originally performed in its entirety as the company’s spring musical of 2022, had been adapted to include a medley of the cast members’ favorite songs and dance numbers and had been reworked to feature only 15 of the original 60-person cast.
Their 15-minute adaptation included the following: “Fit as a Fiddle,” featuring Austin Peirron and Mischa Snow; “All I Do Is Dream of You” as a favorite dance number; “You Are My Lucky Star,” featuring a solo by Riley McCartney; “What’s Wrong With Me,” featuring Erin Leensvaart as soloist; and the final tap number to “Broadway Melody,” showcasing the footwork of Lydia Beisner, Alaina Froning, and Nola Miley.
Final Bow Director of Theatre and Music Lindsey Ausborn traveled with the group and said, “It was the most positive experience for all of them! They gave 110 percent and delivered a beautiful performance!”
Ausborn went on to explain JTF is “less a competition and more of a celebration of theater.” As a director, her favorite part of the weekend came immediately after adjudication. The cast was given direct feedback from the judges and then escorted to a debriefing room where they could talk amongst themselves about their performance. Ausborn explained all the adults sat down and allowed the junior members to take the lead. Happy tears were shed, and Ausborn said the students were so supportive, telling one another things like, “I loved your performance today because you did this or that so great!”
The group was also able to observe several other troupes’ performances from all over the world displaying all different skill levels. Ausborn described the experience as an “atmosphere of celebration” where students could see “all different levels of performance and that’s okay.”
Final Bow members were able to work with other students over the weekend where they were seen creating lasting memories and “building that network that’s so important in the arts.” According to Ausborn, students were “‘snapping’ groups and making connections with kids from all around the world.”
Very special highlights included Erin Leensvaart and Riley McCartney being selected by the judges as All Stars who were invited to work with the cast of “Mean Girls” during the weekend.
Also, auditions were held for a special NYC project, and out of several hundred who auditioned, all three Final Bow cast members who tried out received a call back. Congratulations to Alaina Froning, Erin Leensvaart, and Nola Miley! These young actors should be informed of their final results within a couple of months.
After such a successful trip, Ausborn was asked if Final Bow would be attending JTF annually. She replied, “Originally, we were going to look at going every other year, but students said, ‘We are coming back next year!’”
Ausborn agrees the growth of “inspiration and drive was so exciting to watch” and that an annual trip would be wonderful to “help inspire castmates” at home. So, the fundraising begins… Final Bow plans to host fundraisers and hopes to develop sponsorships to assist with future JTF fees and travel expenses. For any individuals or businesses wishing to ensure young actors experience the magic again next year, Ausborn asks they call Final Bow at 937-459-8078 where staff would happily coordinate with them.
Check out the JTF highlight reel posted Jan. 15 on Final Bow Center for Children’s Performing Arts Facebook page where some of the Final Bow crew members can be seen in the first and final parts of the clip. Reach Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.