Young performers from around the world are in Atlanta for performances and workshops meant to showcase how important the arts are in schools.
About 7,000 students are expected at the Junior Theater Festival this weekend.
Georgia students from schools like Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta will be participating in this weekend’s festivities at the Cobb Galleria. Groups will perform in front of a set of musical theater experts. The young performers have 15 minutes, and they aren’t allowed to use any props or costumes.
Junior Theater Festival founder Tim McDonald said the simplicity has a purpose.
“If you really strip it down to just the story that they’re telling, then it doesn’t matter what your budget was back at home, it doesn’t matter if you’re from a rich school or a school that has more needs,” he said. “If you tell that story, then you’re going to be successful.”
Mcdonald started this competition 17 years ago. He created it in an effort to save school art programs.
“So we thought if we could have a friendly competition where lots of people and groups win legitimately, then it would be much more difficult for school boards to cut the programs because the parents would say ‘Woah wait a minute, my kid had the best time in this, they learned this that and that. They’re well-spoken. My kid was shy, and now they’re not. You can’t cut that program, what can we do?’”
Students like Mill Springs Academy seventh-grader Maggie Erlacher appreciate these kinds of competitions.
“When I figured out that there was a JTF, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do this.’ When it got closer, I was like really nervous, but it’s just one performance that you have to do, and then you see other people perform, and it’s pretty fun,” she said.
“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” lyricist and composer Rob Rokicki will be one of the adjudicators at the competition. He and a long list of Broadway musical experts will judge the student’s performances and teach them workshops.
“You know, as we get older, we get more cynical even in our own business we do. And that’s why I say it’s so wonderful to reconnect and say ‘Oh this is why theater is so special’,” Rokicki said.
After the judges weigh in, students talk over the whole experience. McDonald said that’s one of the most important parts of the weekend, a space for students to talk through their presentations in order to grow and learn from their art.