Yes, they did it again! Boothbay Region YMCA Y-Arts scored another national Freddie G Excellence in Ensemble Work award at the iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta Jan. 18. There were 128 educational musical theater groups – and ours is the only YMCA.
The members of the 2020 Y-Arts group were Abby Amaral, Fiona Bishop, Paige Botts, Emma Castonia. Lindsey Clifford, Alicia Flis, Della Hahn (in a boot with a broken ankle!), Emerson Harris, Ford Harris, Sarah Harris, Ellie Hilscher, Sophia Mansfield, Scout Martin, Harrison Pierpan, Spencer Pottle, Olivia Roberts, JoJo Shea, Trey Tibbetts, Anna Tomasello, Laura Tomasello, Rebecca Tomasello, Jessie Ullo and Kayla Watts. Of these 23 Y-Arts performers, ranging in age from 7-13, 14 were newbies.
Activities started bright and early Friday, Jan. 17 with rehearsal and team photos. Della, Emerson, Laura, Sarah, Sophia and Rebecca were invited to audition in an open call held by iTheatrics choreographers. The Festival is the perfect time to look for dancers to feature in DVDs demonstrating new dance routines for new JR Theater shows. Sarah, Sophia and Laura got call backs.
“The iTheatrics choreographers want to see how quickly the kids can pick up new choreography,” explained Mirabile. “When they do the (DVD) filming, there’s a short time to rehearse and filming is the next day.”
Although none of the three were chosen for a DVD, it’s still quite a nice entry on their young resumes!
“It’s all part of the experience,” Mirabile said. “And that’s the whole point of the festival.”
The Y-Arts’ 15-minute performance of selections from “Schoolhouse Rock Live! JR” was judged by choreographer Shay Rodgers, creator and former longtime manager of Academy at Houston's Theatre Under the Stars. Also in a judge’s seat was Julia Magnasco, education director at First Stage and an adjunct staff member at the University of W-Milwaukee.
“Every year I expect to hear ‘What, you’re a YMCA?’” said Mirabile with a laugh. “And I always do! The most exciting moment for them is when we’re waiting in the hall to perform for the judges,” Mirabile said and added that if it had been anyone but Della with a broken ankle she would have been worried about letting them perform. And, ever the professional, Della did it all – the dancing and the lifts. Yes, lifts.
In the nine years Y-Arts has been attending the Festival, the kids have always been pretty excited after the adjudication, but this year the emotions were both excitement and sadness for some of the newbies, as Emily likes to call them. “It was the first time I had children cry because it was over,” Mirabile said. “They were so sad it was over. It was very touching.
Emma was one of the emotional kids. Mirabile said in the post-performance discussions Emma told the group she had seen a video clip of the Y-Arts group’s performance at a past Festival and told her parents she wanted to do it, too.
After the adjudications were over, the excitement and activity didn’t stop. They attended an acting and a dance workshop, previewed new or updated Junior Theater musicals – two Disney shows, “Moana JR,” and “Newsies JR;” “Elephant and Piggy JR,” “Matilda JR.” and “The Drowsy Chaperone JR,” a Disney Dance Party, and three workshops: acting, dancing and music.
The group attended talk backs at which they met youth and young adult Broadway actors from “Frozen” and the actor who portrayed Aladdin – in full costume. These talk backs never fail to get the kids excited about the next year and their upcoming shows back home. Mirabile said their 2021 adjudication piece will be from “Madagascar JR” and that the same show will be a Y summer camp show.
Sunday was the day of the Tech Olympics. Each group sends four of its team members to compete. Representing Y-Arts were Ella, Sarah, Rebecca and Ellie. The challenge: Tape out a measured figure, reset props and do a quick costume change. Mirabile said they didn’t place, but did a great job. “It’s not hard stuff but when you just throw them into it … and you could tell some of the teams had practiced.” She plans on having the kids do some training after rehearsals for next year’s competition.
The awards and closing ceremonies were also on Sunday. Harrison Pierpan and Emerson Harris had been named to the Junior Theater Festival All-Stars and were two of the performers during that closing ceremony.
Back from the whirlwind weekend of learning, performing and having outrageous fun, Y-Arts is busy working on the upcoming production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast, JR” with costumes rented from a company in New Hampshire. “You really can’t do ‘Beauty and The Beast’ without the costumes!” said Mirabile. The show goes up May 1 and 2 at the Lincoln Theater featuring 40 to 50 performers from the Boothbay and CLC YMCAs.
And this Sunday, Feb. 9 at 5 p.m., the community can watch the gang perform its winning adjudication piece at the YMCA. After the 15-minute performance, there will be a slideshow from the trip and awards will be presented to the outstanding youth performers.
Mirabile said this year just might be her favorite ever. “I think it was a combination of the kids we had … and the parents were so supportive. Another reason I may have liked it so much is because it was a whole new kind of excitement and experience for all of us; it was the first time we had children cry. And I think when our parents go to these events for the first or ninth time, and see that our kids from little old Boothbay can stand up next to these kids from arts academies … it’s a special thing.”