One year ago, three Nelson teens were busking at the Nelson Market Day to raise money for the trip of a lifetime to represent New Zealand at the 15th Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.
Last week, they returned home champions after being awarded an Excellence in Music for their performance of Mary Poppins Jr as part of the inaugural New Zealand team.
The 40 youngsters were selected from 650 hopefuls from around the country to be part of the Kiwi All Stars, including Nelson teens Matthew Edgar, 15, Tiana Simpson, 14, and Sophie McCarlie, 17.
The Junior Theatre Festival celebrates musical theatre and musical theatre education with three days of events and performances that bring Broadway and West End professionals together with educators and young students.
Teams present a 15-minute staged performance for adjudication, after which students attend interactive workshops.
The Kiwi All Stars competed against 127 groups representing six countries – USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and China – a total of 6,532 people.
Unable to rehearse together prior to leaving for the States, the troupe met in New York for rehearsals as well as a series of workshops with industry professionals and attended Broadway shows.
“I loved the Broadway shows,” says Sophie. “Getting the opportunity to talk to the Frozen cast members after the show reinforced just how much time and effort you need to put in to achieve what you want.”
After a frenetic rehearsal period the troupe headed to Atlanta for the festival.
Australasian Director Shane Bransdon, from Oz Theatrics, says that part of the experience was to put the students through a professional rehearsal schedule.
“They worked long hours and they stepped up to match the standard that is offered by industry professionals,” he says. “The kids lapped up every opportunity.”
Despite less than five full days of rehearsals, Matthew says that he was reasonably confident that the Kiwi troupe would punch above their weight.
“Despite all being strangers, we came together as a group so well and we’d all worked so hard,” he says.
“I was so surprised and absolutely ecstatic when they called our name to receive the Excellence in Music award. To be recognised among so many groups that had trained together for months was astounding.”
After the festival the troupe headed to Los Angeles where they took in some of the famous Hollywood sights including a private tour and workshop at Universal Studios’ Water World and then a half-day workshop with Disney performers at Disneyland where they learnt about the importance of improvisation.
“It’s okay to make mistakes, but you just have to use your imagination and carry on regardless,” says Tiana.
They all agree that it was the experience of a lifetime, but are quick to acknowledge the amount of work and dedication required.
“The pressure to get the piece of work done was inspiring, and it was amazing to be immersed with other people passionate about musical theatre,” says Sophie.
“All of the workshops and meeting industry professionals and performers who so willingly shared their knowledge was amazing,” says Matthew