Tonawanda News

June 6, 2014

A chance to shine

By Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Young performers from across Western New York will have their chance to shine at 710 Main Theatre as part of Buffalo’s first Junior Theater Celebration, held by Shea’s Performing Arts Center in conjunction with iTheatrics. 

The celebration will consist of approximately 350 elementary and middle school students. Holmes Elementary School in the Town of Tonawanda is one of the schools selected to participate. 

Heather Holden, music teacher at Holmes, says her students are encouraged to perform. Each grade gives a performance once a year with the fourth- and fifth-grade choirs giving two. They also have a music or talent show each year that involves students from several grades.

“They’ve had such a wonderful time and they have so much positive energy,” Holden said of her students. “They took the music home the first week and when they came in for the second rehearsal it was pretty much learned.”

The music was for “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from “Annie Jr.” Fifteen third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls were selected to fill the singing roles of Annie and her friends from the orphanage. Holden said they’ve gotten so good they might be able to convince the audience they’re really orphans. 

The kids will be judged by a panel of nationally recognized theater professionals who will give feedback on their performances and hear feedback given to students from other schools. Then the pupils and their teachers will have the opportunity to participate in theater workshops that are designed to provide further theatrical training. 

They will also participate in a grand finale directed by iTheatrics chief choreographer Steven G. Kennedy, then get to watch a performance by Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. 

“We are very excited to be able to offer this outstanding program to elementary and middle school students and educators in the Buffalo-Niagara region,” said Shea’s President Anthony Conte. “The program is a natural extension of our existing educational programs and offers an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with hundreds of others who share their passion for musical theater.”

The Junior Theater Celebration program partners Shea’s with iTheatrics, a New York City-based group with a mission to make the joy of musical theater available to all children. To do so they adapt Broadway musicals for elementary, middle and high school students and creating educational materials to go along with teachers’ lesson plans. 

“We just want them to feel like they’ve been celebrated, that they can share what they’re doing with the larger community,” said Timothy Allen McDonald, a founder of iTheatrics. “Ultimately this is about celebrating that we have art in our schools, that children are being enriched by it and that every (school) should have that.”

iTheatrics decided to expand to Buffalo because of the great respect they have for Shea’s but also because of one of their leading theater experts, Cindy Ripley, a Western New York native. 

McDonald says this event is an anchor used to help start programs in local “under-served” schools. This goal is to make the Junior Theater Celebration an annual event so that schools can have something to work toward each year, something that will bring them together to learn from each other and build a strong musical theater community among Buffalo’s youngest generation. 

“I just want them to feel confident about who they are any what they have to share with the world,” Holden said. “Music is a vehicle for that, one way to express themselves and be heard and share a piece of who they are. This happens to be my way of supporting them and giving them an opportunity to get out here and be proud of who they are.” 

The students will be working with representatives from iTheatrics from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 710 Main Theatre. The event is not open to the public. 

Contact reporter Mia Summerson at 693-1000, ext. 4313.

Contact reporter Mia Summerson at 693-1000, ext. 4313.