Springfield youth arts group stands out at Junior Theater Festival

A Springfield youth group has stood out among its peers at one of the country’s premiere arts events. The Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors (YAA) earned the Excellence in Ensemble Award at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta on Jan. 13-15.

It was the second time in five years of participating YAA has earned the award, along with several other individual honors this time. The festival gathers around 6,000 kids each year to perform and learn from professional theater performers and educators.

YAA is composed of middle and high school students from Clark, Champaign and Madison counties.

Although the YAA has thrived at the event, program director Krissy Brown said this group had a little more pressure and admitted nerves as about half the YAA attendees were there for the first time and the program lost several seniors who led the group a year ago.

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“They didn’t want to be the group that didn’t get an award, but that’s not how we measure success here. So it felt really, really good afterwards when they did win,” Brown said.

The group presented a scene from “Mary Poppins Jr.,” a show it presented in the fall. It confirmed the group is on the radar of the show organizers.

“Every year we hear how much our group loves each other and a testament to how much hard work goes into it,’ said Brown. “We are thrilled. It shows our kids are listening to us and lift each other up instead of focusing on one or two kids.”

Two ambassadors, Sarah Angell and Addie Powell, were recognized as festival all-stars, chosen for performing strongly. Angell, who played the title role in “Mary Poppins,” stood out because she did her own version of the title character and didn’t just reproduce the Julie Andrews stereotype of the role, which Brown said shows how confident she was.

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Powell was thrown into a lot of things from performing a solo to lifting during the dance solos.

“No matter what part she’s doing, Addie always gets right in and you can’t take your eyes off her,” said Brown.

Powell, Brady Castillo and Chloe Terry got callbacks to potentially be selected for a theater project in New York City this summer. About 150 kids earned callbacks and 40 will be chosen for the project.

Brown is pleased the YAA numbers are strong at 75 and has grown in recent years despite losing 19 people last year.

“We are so fortunate to go to this festival, and it was really nice to bring all the new kids. There felt like a new magic there,” said Brown.

The YAA will present its next musical, “Xanadu,” March 3-4 at the John Legend Theater. They will also do “Newsies Jr.” as part of the 2023 Summer Arts Festival, with auditions in April.

For more information on YAA, go to www.facebook.com/youthartsambassadors/.

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