Paul Smith choreographs a scene as the Springfield Arts Council Youth Arts Ambassadors rehearse for the upcoming Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta this weekend. BRETT TURNER/CONTRIBUTOR

Springfield youth arts ambassadors return to Junior Theater Festival

A year ago, the Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors were wide-eyed, a bit nervous and enthused attending their first iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival.

After unexpectedly winning an Excellence in Acting Award and a handful of individual honors, 47 Ambassadors and chaperons return to Atlanta today for the three-day event as more of a family, filled with confidence and prepared to stand out again amongst 7,000 young performers from several states and foreign countries.

Originally envisioned as a biennial event for the Ambassadors, Arts Council Art Education Director Krissy Brown couldn’t resist returning based on that initial success.

“It was too hard not to bring them back. There was so much camaraderie and they were tearful at what they did,” she said. “It will be a much different experience. There are all kinds of adult role models and hearing feedback from them means more.”

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In addition to the performers, the Ambassadors will have more opportunities such as three tech kids being able to learn more about their craft and student music directors Tim Compston and Ben Hunt will gain new insights.

Groups are required to do a 15-minute show performance. For their first experience last year the Ambassadors were unique as the only group to do “Fame, Jr.” This time out they’ll be among several groups doing “Frozen, Jr.,” a show they did last fall at the John Legend Theater.

“The kids are up to the challenge of being compared to others doing the same thing,” Brown said. “Their professionalism has gone up a thousand percent.”

An extra incentive is they’ll perform for Caissie Levy, who originated the role of Elsa in “Frozen” on Broadway.

According to Brown, the goal of this trip is to go in and get more experience and not be disappointed if no awards come back to Springfield. Another benefit was discovering that these shorter shows aren’t just for kids, and the performers are taking them more seriously and finding that shorter doesn’t mean less important.

Part of the rehearsal has been transforming the Ambassadors into “musical theater gangsters,” which means smiling while being tough, Brown said.

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Prior to rehearsals, the group sits in a circle and freely share concerns about what could improve their take on “Frozen, Jr.” Yet even more hands shoot up with what they’re super confident about, offering praise for each other and meshing as a family of performers, not just a group.

Roosevelt Middle School student and longtime Ambassador Evie Ohlers is a festival returnee and applying what she’s learned, playing the young version of Anna in “Frozen.”

“The biggest thing I learned was if you’re going to do something, commit to it. I hope people can see you don’t have to be super technical to get emotion across.”

Ohlers admits she still gets nervous, but excited also.

Landen Hilton, a freshman at Global Impact STEM Academy, is on his first festival trip for the experience, to have fun with his friends and get better perspective from professionals. Like Ohlers, he is nervous, but channeling that into excitement.

“I’m ready to have the time of my life,” he said.

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