Junior Theatre Festival: A Student's Perspective by Abi Crigler

Junior Theatre Festival: A Student's Perspective

If you would've asked me this past December what JTF was, I would not have been able to tell you. I probably would've guessed it was some thing the kids were saying these days like "LOL" or "OMG." (I'm obviously a very in-touch teenager) I would not have known that those three letters symbolized a weekend of magic and laughter, beauty and storytelling, and most of all theatre. JTF stands for the Junior Theatre Festival.

I was asked over email if I would be interested in joining Stage Door's JTF-bound Annie Jr. as an orphan/maid. After much investigative googling, I discerned that this was an amazing opportunity. Broadway celebs? Newsies premiere?? Beautiful theatre friends??? What more could a theatre geek dream of? The fact that I would finally get to play an orphan in the show I've always loved (but assumed I had aged out of at 5"11) was just the delicious buttercream icing on the cake. However, when we got into rehearsals, I discovered something I personally find to be less-than-stellar: we were going to be judged.

People judging me makes me incredibly nervous, not cute "butterflies-in-the-stomach" kind of nervous, more "a-wasps-nest-just-exploded-in-my-stomach" nervous. My heartbeat is actually escalating while I'm writing about it. When I realized our performance was to be judged by a panel of performing arts professionals and then compared to others, I began to panic a little (ok, maybe a lot) and was sure that somehow I would be singled out as the failure in our group. On our way down to Atlanta, throughout hilarious games and impromptu sing-a-longs, the thought of judgement ate at me in the back of my mind. I had complete faith in my cast mates' talent and practice, but less than zero in my own. But once we got into the facility Friday things began to change.

At Stage Door, their main goal is to teach their actors how to tell a story, and they do a wonderful job of it. In our Friday rehearsal, as we were all replaced in new positions to accommodate the smaller place in which we were to perform, I was again reminded of this. As Mr. Jason and Mr. Brandon tried to focus us rambunctious kiddos in a chaotic hallway, they were quick to remind us it wasn't about positions or marks, it was about Annie and all the complex beauties of her story and all of our parts in that beauty. It didn't matter if we were technically perfect or if the music stopped (spoiler alert: it definitely did). What mattered was telling a story to our audience, connecting with them.

In every show I've ever performed in, I feel the need to prove I deserve to be there, that I'm not a failure. But that isn't what theatre is about at all. It is expressing to someone else a story. One with characters who have real emotions and hurts and happinesses. One that entertains with bright smiles and laughter when you need it the most. One where you can connect and feel a little less lonely in this crazy mess of a world. That is what theatre is about, and being reminded of this so graciously calmed every nerve in my body. I fell deep into the story of Caroline (my self-named orphan whose favorite holiday is the 4th of July because she can see the fireworks from her window and they make her feel less alone) and Mrs Pugh (a maid whose deepest love is to care for others and whose favorite color is a light lavender) and let the parts of me that connected shine through in them. It was liberating and lovely to grant myself the same positivity I throw like confetti at others through the simple magic of a story.

As the weekend ran on after our show, through the performances of upcoming productions, talks from theatre experts, and essentially everyone I met, this theme of stories continued. After being reminded of the centrality of storytelling, I began seeing its beauty everywhere. I saw it in the girl playing Rafiki as she belted "He Lives In You". I saw it in the sparkling eyes of a very happy little crab in the New Works preview of A Magic Tree House show. I saw it in the glinting starlights behind the dazzling Mary Poppins company. I saw the passion for it as Broadway directors, composers, and actors talked to us. I saw it in the heart-wrenching, lovely performance of the Newsies movie premiere. I was drinking in stories like warm apple cider, and I never wanted to end. It was incredible.

 JTF helped re-cultivate in me a love of story-telling and hence theatre. Amongst all that passion and the positive energy, I flew. The whole weekend wasn't devoted to being better than anyone or to do everything perfectly. It was devoted to support and love and connection and stories. That is what made it so beautiful and is why I would recommend it to anyone. Not only is it incredibly cool with workshops led by professionals and sneak peaks of upcoming Broadway and MTI JR shows, its a home where everyone is proud and excited for each other, where people run around trading wrist bands with new friends, where everyone bounces along to a physically-exhausting but super fun pony game, and where it is perfectly acceptable to burst out in spontaneous song and dance on your friend's shoulders (Shout out to Sydney for letting me dance on her shoulders). I hope myself to return next year (So help me, Sondheim!) and be apart of this glorious community once more because I really do think it changed me "For Good".

Abi Crigler was last seen as Fiona is SDP's production of Shrek Jr. We are very excited that she will be rejoining SDP on the main stage in our upcoming production of G2K Cinderella! Abi is a joy to work with and SDP is thrilled that she is part of the #SDPfamily!

Click Here for more information on the convention or to register for your audition slot.

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