Local Students Win Top Awards at Junior National Theater Festival

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Students representing Innovation Drama Academy in Monroe, Spotlight Players in Mint Hill and Academy Team Rock Hill and Showtime Theatre Company in Rock Hill (SC) won national awards and earned other recognition at the 2022 Junior Theater Festival Atlanta (JTF Atlanta). The monumental weekend dedicated to rewarding and celebrating student-driven musical theater programs happened online and in-person January 14-16, 2022, in Atlanta.
Awards
Academy Team Rock Hill won a Freddie G award for Excellence in Ensemble Work and student Sophie Heffernan won a Freddie G award for Outstanding Performance by an Individual.
Showtime Theatre Company won a Freddie G award for Excellence in Acting.
Spotlight Players won a Freddie G award for Excellence in Acting.
Adjudication and Adjudicator Feedback
At the festival, each group performed 15 minutes of a Broadway Junior® musical for adjudicators.
Academy Team Rock Hill presented Seussical KIDS to director Lotte Wakeham (Associate Director: Matilda the Musical – West End and Broadway); actor Daniel Yearwood (Hamilton, Once On This Island 2017 Revival); and Cindy Ripley, senior education consultant at iTheatrics.
Said Wakeham, “This performance was utterly charming. It was clear that the students were working as a team and supporting each other. The staging was fluid and exciting, and it was wonderful to watch the students use their physicality to create so many different animals. They also displayed strong comic talent. Bravo!” She added, “The staff and students should be incredibly proud of their hard work. They have achieved a huge amount in this performance, and I am excited for what these very talented young performers will do next.”
Added Yearwood, “From the first down beat Sophie Heffernan took over the entire space with leadership, poise, and a joy that lit up the entire room. She led the incredible Academy Team Rock Hill ensemble with excellence as they displayed a true sense of earnest pride in storytelling. For those who may not know, Suessical is a show that centers around the Dr. Seuss book ‘Horton Hears a Who’. From the narration so exquisitely executed by Sophie to the ever-present energy of each ensemble member you’d never have to read the book to understand every facet of the story.
Jordyn Petty shined as Gertrude with a sensibility and gentleness that warmed every heart. In terms of the technical aspects of the production, there were intricate lifts that lit up our eyes and vocals that blew us away. We enjoyed harmonies that blended beautifully and vocal choices that had us chucking through the entire presentation. To top it off, Brady Bass’s Horton and Nyla Clubreath’s JoJo had a connection that warmed our hearts. They kept us laughing at the extravagant nature of their relationship, yet reminded us of the true lesson of respect and recognition of one another.”
Said Ripley, “Academy Team Rock Hill is such a multi talented group and . They work together as an incredible team!”
Innovation Drama Academy presented Singin’ in the Rain JR. for Broadway Actor Krystina Alabado (Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls, American Idiot); Kenny Shepard (Professor, Musical Theatre and Dance Departments: Ball State and Anderson University and Choreographer for The Children’s Museum’s Lilly Theatre/Indianapolis), and Bradford Theatre educator and director Holly Stanfield (national student premieres of Aida School Edition, Thoroughly Modern Millie School Edition and Rent School Edition).
Alabado said, “Innovation Drama Academy had so much fun telling this story!! The young man who played Don was a standout and a clearly respected leader!” Shepard added, “Omari Cupid as Don Lockwood is a talented force and skillfully led this ensemble to success. Anayiah Bivens was also a standout as Lina Lamont. The entire company worked well with me and fellow adjudicators developing skills and fine tuning details of this engaging show.” Said Stanfield, “Singin’ In the Rain JR. stole our hearts this morning. The commitment to their story, and the joy and confidence they exuded really entertained the audience at JTF’s Silver Pod.”
The adjudicators also shared further thoughts about how the students’ performance reflected on Innovation Drama Academy. Alabado said, “It is clear that the teachers and directors here care very much about these young artists!” Added Shepard, “Innovation Drama Academy’s Singin’ in the Rain JR. showed the strength of this program as they brought this classic musical theater piece to life. The audience and I saw storytellers and developing artists at their finest!” Said Stanfield, “This production of Singin’ In the Rain JR. featured many very gifted young performers. It is obvious that they are learning great acting, singing and dancing skills in their work with Innovation Drama Academy. You need all of these skills to tell this story.”
Showtime Theatre Company presented Disney’s Frozen JR. and Spotlight Players presented Guys and Dolls JR. to Director of Teaching & Learning (Roundabout Theatre Company) Paul Brewster McGinley; performer, director and choreographer Carol Worcel (Anything Goes, Broadway National Tour), and Actor Michael Wordly (The Color Purple, US Tour).
Brewster McGinley said of Showtime Theatre Company, “This high energy cast was clearly a supportive and collaborative team. The whole ensemble showed off their acting, singing and dancing skills to bring us on the epic story of Disney’s Frozen JR.”
Brewster McGinley said of Spotlight Players, “This presentation showcased a small and mighty ensemble that is student driven, showcasing creative ideas from the talented and hysterical Izzy Meltzer (Miss Adelaide/Student Director) and dynamic Jessica Dockrill (Harry the Horse/Student Choreographer). This is a very committed and bonded group of young people. The program seems to value both process and product. There was a lot of young artist participation, not only the performing but also the creating of the performance including collaboration skills, feedback, taking notes from one another, negotiation and conflict resolution.” Worcel added, “This group is small but mighty and I thoroughly enjoyed their performance. They demonstrated cleverness in staging this piece with a limited number of actors. Shout out to the student choreographer on her first endeavor.”
Additional Recognition at the Festival
Showtime Theatre Company students Angelina Hovey, Cameron Mills, and Sarah Willoughby made it to the callback for future video shoots for “how-to” choreography videos.
The following students were distinguished as All-Stars, an outstanding group of young performers at the festival: Academy Team Rock Hill students Nyla Clubreath and Anna Wall, Innovation Drama Academy students Anaiyah Bivens and Omari Cupid, Showtime Theatre Company students Cate Jambe and Sarah Willoughby and Spotlight Players students Jaylen Dickerson and Izzy Meltzer.
About The 2022 JTF Atlanta
Called a “rousing celebration of theatre” by the New York Times, the Junior Theater Festival applauds and empowers young people and educators creating student-driven musical theater around the globe.
The 2022 JTF Atlanta was an incredible and safe weekend of singing, dancing, acting, and learning. The festival worked with experts to modify the event to meet and exceed local, state, and federal safety guidelines. Festival policies included implementing mandatory masking and authenticating vaccinations or negative COVID test results for all attendees.
Tony Award winning actor Ali Stroker performed the headlining concert. Actors Tommy Bracco (Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical) and Kara Lindsay (Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical) took part in a special Newsies panel via video.
Additional talent appearing at the festival and cheering the young artists were actor Krystina Alabado (Mean Girls, Broadway), actor McKenna Michael Bisaha (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical tour), actor Katy Geraghty (Groundhog Day!, Broadway), actor Jake David Smith (Disney’s Frozen on Broadway), actor Daniel J. Mertzlufft (Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical), actor Luca Padovan (Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical), author and playwright Jodi Picoult (Wish You Were Here, Breathe), screenwriter, songwriter and novelist Dean Pitchford (Footloose, Broadway), music orchestrator Macy Schmidt (founder of The Broadway Sinfonietta), Michael Wordly (The Color Purple, US Tour), and actor Daniel Yearwood (Hamilton).
Groups enjoyed a New Works Showcase of performance selections from upcoming Broadway Junior® musicals presented by JTF groups, and other mainstage performances featuring powerhouse Broadway guests and took part in workshops.
For bios on Academy Team Rock Hill, Innovation Drama Academy, Showtime Theatre Company and Spotlight Players, click here.

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