Junior Theater Festival Will Honor Disney Theatrical Group

by Naomi Crews
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Megan Hilty will perform at the iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival

The iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival will take place Jan. 16-18 in Atlanta, and performers from Smash, Annie, Into the Woods Newsies, The Lion King and more will perform at the Festival celebrating educational musical theatre. The performances mark the 10 years since Disney Theatrical Group launched its library of musical theater titles for middle and elementary school aged performers at the 2005 Junior Theater Festival. 

STAGE AND SCREEN STARS MEGAN HILTY, LILLA CRAWFORD, LUCA PADOVAN, KRISTEN ANDERSON-LOPEZ AND ROBERT LOPEZ 
TO PERFORM AT 2015 JUNIOR THEATER FESTIVAL JANUARY 16, 17 AND 18 IN ATLANTA

Festival Dedicated to Young People in Theater Will  Honor Disney Theatrical Group’s Decade in Educational Musical Theater

NEW  YORK – Stage and screen stars Megan Hilty (WickedSmash), Lilla Crawford (AnnieInto the Woods the movie), Luca Padovan (Newsies), and Philip McAdoo (Disney’s The Lion KingRent), as well as Disney Theatrical Group president and producer Thomas Schumacher, Oscar-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen), and Tony-nominated composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach) are confirmed for the 2015 Junior Theater Festival (#JTF15), it was announced today by Timothy Allen McDonald, founding chairman of iTheatrics and the Junior Theater Group.  Students and teachers from 101 educational musical theater groups representing 26 states, the district of Columbia and two countries will participate in the 2015 Junior Theater Festival, to be held January 16, 17 and 18 at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta.

“The 2015 Junior Theater Festival is our tenth festival.  From the beginning we have designed this event to shine a spotlight on the importance of young people having access to quality musical theater programs,” says McDonald. “Our JTF audience continues to inspire us.   At the festival and at home, these teachers and students encourage each other to find more and more creative ways to tell their musical theater stories and build better and better programs.  Furthermore, they create a groundswell of support and appreciation for the arts across the nation.  Their energy, commitment and passion are thrilling,” he adds.  

Produced by the Junior Theater Group in partnership with iTheatrics, a leading educational theater company that creates innovative experiences and products for the public and private sector, the Junior Theater Festival is the world’s largest festival celebrating young people and the transformative power of musical theater.  This year’s title sponsors are Music Theatre International (MTI), Disney Theatrical Group, and Playbill®.  The Junior Theater Festival was founded in 2003.  In 2010 the festival became an annual event.

Thomas Schumacher will offer an interactive presentation about Disney’s The Lion King stage musical for the festival’s “Direct From Broadway” program. Disney’s The Lion King recently achieved the most successful box office total of any work in any media in entertainment history. 

The 2015 Junior Theater Festival marks 10 years since Disney Theatrical Group launched its library of musical theater titles for middle and elementary school aged performers at the 2005 Junior Theater Festival.  The festival will honor the milestone with a special student performance of Disney songs during the festival’s New Works Showcase on Saturday night

Megan Hilty will perform a concert for all attendees on Sunday, January 18.  The program will feature songs from her Broadway and television career and album It Happens All The Time.

Lilla Crawford, Luca Padovan, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez will talk candidly about their experiences as professionals during the festival’s Pathways to Success Q&A session.  Anderson-Lopez and Lopez will also present a musical number

Broadway composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Broadway’s A Christmas Story the MusicalDogfight, Smash and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach) and performer Philip McAdoo (The Lion KingRent) will serve as guest adjudicators.  In the spirit of celebration and not competition, each group at the festival will perform a selection from a musical for a panel of theater professionals and will receive feedback about their creativity, engagement in the performance, understanding of the material, and connection to the lyrics and movement.

At the New Works Showcase on Saturday, January 17, four Junior Theater Festival groups will perform selections from new musicals that will soon be made available for licensing by MTI. Play on Players (Duluth, GA) will perform Elf JR., Ohlook Performing Arts Center (Grapevine, TX) will perform Singing in the Rain JR., Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School’s BRAVO! program (Oak Park, IL) will perform Roald Dahl’s James in The Giant Peach JR. and Theatre Under the Stars  (Houston, TX) will perform selections from Disney’s The Lion King JR. and Disney’s The Lion King KIDS.  Students will also take part in a very special performance honoring the tenth anniversary of the launch of Disney’s titles of musicals for elementary and middle school performers.

Additional Junior Theater Festival celebrity guests include MTI CEO Freddie Gershon, a 2012 Tony® honor recipient for Excellence in the Theatre; Jacob Brent (Cats); designer Theresa Squire (The Lieutenant of Inishmore); conductor, music director and pianist Rick Hip-Flores (We Will Rock You – U.S. Tour); and artistic directors from leading children’s theaters: Michael Bobbitt of the Adventure Theatre, Rosemary Newcott of the Alliance Theatre, and Ernie Nolan of Emerald City Theatre.

Eight exceptional educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country will be selected for the sixth annual “The Freddie G Fellowship,” in which the teachers will receive an all-expense-paid trip to New York City to collaborate with each other and work one-on-one with Broadway greats.  Each winning teacher will also receive a $5,000 grant to put towards his or her theater program.  The event is sponsored by MTI’s Freddie (“G”) Gershon and his wife Myrna Gershon and is a thank-you for all that teachers do to introduce the next generation to Broadway and musical theater.

Freddie Gershon conceived The MTI Broadway Junior Collection (featuring 30- and 60-minute musicals for young performers) in 1994, and has had nearly 300,000 performances since its inception.  Beginning in 2010, the festival has paid tribute to his leadership and dedication by renaming its student awards for excellence in theater “The Freddie G’s.”  

There will be a tech track in which students interested in technical theater train with professionals.  A select group of these student technicians will be invited to work side-by-side with festival staff in running the tech for main stage festival events.  Each group may also nominate up to four students to take part in the “Tech Olympics,” in which students complete an obstacle course of technical theater activities – ranging from performing a quick change and focusing a light to pre-setting props and taping the floor – within the fastest time. 

The festival will award the second annual Sharidan Giles Technical Theater Award Scholarship to the technical theater student who most exemplifies commitment, curiosity, collaboration, and creativity in technical theater.  Giles was a respected theater production manager and technical director who mentored countless technical theater artists and was one of the first women admitted into her local branch of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States union (IATSE local # 50). 

Playbill will present The Playbill Community Service Award, created to acknowledge all of the ways young people at the Junior Theater Festival are giving back across the country. All groups attending the Junior Theater Festival are encouraged to document their organization's community service projects. These activities could be anything from hosting a weekly afterschool program for under-served students to holding a food drive or performing at an assisted-living facility. Up to five finalists will be chosen by a panel of adjudicators and highlighted on Playbill.com, where the public will vote on its favorite. The organization receiving the most votes will win a $1,000 cash prize to support its continued charitable efforts. Playbill will also present their educational resources—includingPlaybillEDU.com, a complete guide to undergraduate music, dance and theater programs around the country; and PLAYBILLder.com, a DIY program maker allowing schools to personalize an authentic Playbill online—to the students and teachers.

This year 50 additional teachers will travel to the festival without groups to take part in the professional development track.  This series of workshops empowers teachers and professionals to present musicals in their communities and offers educators the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to grow their program in every possible way.  

The 2015 Junior Theater Festival offers an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with thousands of others who share their passion for musical theater.  In addition to presenting a 15-minute selection from a musical, both students and teachers participate in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gain from professional development, and enjoy theatrical fellowship.  

While the Junior Theater Festival is not about creating the stars of tomorrow, many of the stars of today have played a role.  Past festival attendees have included Zac Efron, Skylar Astin, Andy Jones, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Kara Lindsay, Henry Hodges, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, Jeanine Tesori, Kenny Leon, and Seth Rudetsky.