January 2018 saw 21 North Shore students from Takapuna Grammar School, travel to Atlanta, Georgia, USA to participate as the first-ever high school from New Zealand in the Junior Theater Festival 2018.
The festival is the largest in the world celebrating musical theatre for young people, and is sponsored by some of the biggest theatre names in the industry: Music Theatre International, Playbill and Disney. It is the brainchild of musical theatre education company iTheatrics, the team who adapt full-length musicals into 60 and 30 minute performance editions for teenagers and children, known as Broadway Junior™ . The collection recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and is gaining more traction in New Zealand as a leading resource for teachers to stage successful school productions.
Team TGS, supported by their three performing arts teachers, ten chaperones and four tour guides from Australia's Travel Gang, presented a 15-minute excerpt from "Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR". The goal was to tell a cohesive story with no costumes or props. All performing groups were on an even playing field. The focus was on the performers showcasing their triple threat skills of musical theatre: singing, acting and dancing.
Takapuna Grammar School won two major awards:
Excellence in Acting and Best Male Performer at the Festival - 17 year-old Miles Ford.
The Festival welcomes over 6000 people from across the USA and globally.
The excerpt was co-directed by performing arts teacher Mr Robert Dil, Head of Faculty Performing Arts Mr Bruce De Grut and Head of Dance Mrs Juliet Cryns. Dil also served as Music Director and the choreography was provided by 17 year old student Emma Self. This was a big opportunity to have student work seen and critiqued by a panel of Broadway and other theatre industry professionals.
Other recognition for TGS included students Franke Ramdhanie and Michael Self being selected as All-Star performers for their performances in Beauty and the Beast JR. Six out of six submitted TGS dancers- Abigail McDonald, Miles Ford, Emma Self, Michael Self, Jess Arrowsmith, and Alice Cawley- all made it through to final callbacks for Broadway JR choreography filming in New York this July (we are now waiting on the results) and additionally Miles, Emma, Michael and Abigail were hired by a professional choreographer to serve as his dance assistants and even paid in USD for standing out in their dance workshop.
The Junior Theater Festival hosted a full weekend of workshops, performances, showcases, celebrities, and sneak peek performances of soon-to-be released Broadway Junior™ titles. Stephen Schwartz, the composer of mega musical hit, Wicked, was present at JTF Atlanta 2018, as was star of NBC's Broadway-themed TV series Smashand stage veteran of Wicked, Megan Hilty who performed a solo concert.
TGS headed to Atlanta via a week in New York City where they saw several Broadway shows, including Dear Evan Hansen, Once On This Island, Anastasia, School of Rock, Spongebob the Musical and Miss Saigon. The students took workshops with Broadway professionals in areas such as singing, audition technique and stage combat. They talked with cast members from Broadway’s Anastasia and School of Rock. Highlights included meeting with Anastasia’s Derek Klena who plays Dimitri in the show, in a private Q&A organised by Travel Gang Australia and meeting him again right after the show for another private Q&A with other members of the show. The post-show meet and greet was made possible, with thanks, through the Broadway Dreams Foundation Managing Director Annette Tanner and NZ Manager (and TGS musical theatre singing teacher) Patrick Kelly.
These dynamic workshops were held in Broadway rehearsal studios and theatres. The ambience was visceral. Working with Broadway Singing Teacher, Jane Seaman, students were able to experience the realities of auditioning for a Broadway show and the students received individual feedback.
TGS Performing Arts Teacher, Mr Robert Dil, was able to meet with the Accessibility team from Theatre Development Fund. They are the team who work with shows on Broadway and theatres all over the United States to create accessible programs to bring the arts to more people. For example, working with shows like Disney's Aladdin and The Lion King, Wicked and Come From Away, they have created Autism Friendly Performances, Sign Language Interpreted Shows, as well as Closed Caption and Audio Described performances.
Dil is passionate about this field and has the personal goal to develop one of the upcoming performances from the MUT production of Little Women into a Sensory Friendly performance this year. TDF are kindly going to support him throughout the process online and Dil will link in with local organisations. With thanks to TDF, TGS have the tools to begin this journey. Dil’s Masters degree was all about how musical theatre can affect positive change in its participants and this is the next step, breaking down more barriers and making the arts more accessible to all. The TDF Accessibility team were kind and generous with their time.
Takapuna Grammar School rounded off the tour with some play time at Disneyland in California, which also saw the students undertaking a Disney Broadway Magic workshop with a Disney teaching artist. They professionally recorded the students' vocals and then filmed them dancing to Aladdin’s ‘Friend Like Me.’ This was all held backstage at the park.
The lights of Broadway called and Takapuna Grammar School not only answered that call but were ready to represent both school and country through musical theatre education!