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Theater students from Australia, EC combine talents

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Staff Photo by Thomas J. Turney Australia drama group and Center Players, Monday, January 9, 2017.

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By CINDY BEAMON
Albemarle Life Editor

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Australians joined the Center Players in song and dance this week to polish their chance to shine at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday.

Theater students from Hunter Drama in New South Wales rehearsed with their counterparts in Elizabeth City for the festival's New Works Showcase, which introduces new and updated versions of Junior Broadway musicals.

The international collaboration will be a first for the showcase

Never before have two groups from two different countries performed at the showcase together, said Holly Wright, artistic director and choreographer for Arts of the Albemarle's Center Players.

Being invited by New York-based iTheatrics to perform at the showcase is an honor in itself, said leaders from both groups on Tuesday.

Only five out of about 125 theater groups, including the two collaborators, were chosen to perform at the showcase.

"The groups have been hand-picked to present selections from 101 Dalmatians Jr. and The Jungle Book Jr. for all 6,000 festival attendees at the New Works Showcase," states Allison Van Etten in a news release from iTheatrics.

Marty Johnson, the director of education for iTheatrics, even stopped in Elizabeth City on his way from New York to Atlanta to offer some last-minute advice.

The group of 46 students, instructors and chaperones arrived in Elizabeth City Tuesday afternoon after spending a week in New York. They leave for Atlanta on Thursday and plan to wrap up their trip in Florida.

Artistic director for Hunter Drama Daniel Stoddart said he was impressed by the town's friendly reception -- and the snow. This time of year, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees F. in Australia, where it is summer now, noted choreographer Chelsea Willis.

Besides the rehearsals, the two groups had a chance to get to know each other better at the homes of hosts.

Stoddart and choreographer James Tolhurst and Willis said they enjoyed a sing-along at Foreman House Bed and Breakfast and dinner at Montero's, where the groups joined in singing both national anthems.

Group leaders said the drama students quickly connected, especially after meeting each other online long before they saw each other face to face.

They also praised the groups for quickly pulling together performances that they practiced separately beforehand.

"They have really confident kids. You can throw anything at them and they just do it," said Stoddart.

Stoddart predicted the performers may be a little jittery when they see the size of their audience -- four times bigger than their theater at home. He was not worried, however. He expected their nervousness will turn into "healthy adrenaline" by showtime.

The groups will offer a preview of their performance tonight for invited guests at the Maguire Theater before heading to Atlanta on Thursday.

The New Works Showcase on Saturday night is a highlight at the weekend festival that draws students and educators from educational musical theater groups across the United States, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia.

During the festival itself, each group attending performs a 15-minute selection of a musical for a panel of theater professionals. The Center Players, ranging in age from 10 to 17, have plans to present "Seussical Jr." before theatrical experts for evaluation. Hunter Drama will be performing a selection from "Shrek Jr."

The Center Players have won several awards in the past couple of years at the festival.

In 2016, The Center Players won a Freddie G. Excellence in Dance award and student Corey Bradford received the Freddie G. All Festival Performance: Male Award, given to only one male at the festival. In addition, Trevor Pharr and William Brickhouse made it to the call-back for future Broadway Junior shoots or "how to" choreography videos for new Broadway Junior musicals.

"Programs return home boosted by national recognition, and every participant is transformed by the knowledge that he/she/they belongs to a vast and diverse community of people who care passionately about this art from," reads the news release from iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival.

Willis said she expected that the groups from Australia and Elizabeth City may have a difficult time parting when the festival ends.

"I feel there will be tears on Sunday when they have to leave their new friends," she said.


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