ELGIN — The Elgin Opera House Youth Actors won big last weekend at the iTheater Junior Theater Festival in Sacramento, California. The team of 24 students and their director took home the top award of the competition and four individual awards.
“I am so incredibly proud of the kids, they worked hard and it paid off,” said Terry Hale, the executive artistic director for the opera house.
The troupe performed a 15-minute version of its 2019 summer production of “Aladdin Jr.” for the festival judges and won the Outstanding Performance award, the top award of the competition. The group competed against more than 2,000 other youths from around the world to win the title for a second year in a row.
According to a news release from the opera house, one of the judges said the performance was a “feast for the eyes.” Winning the award also meant the students performed at the festival’s awards ceremony in front of a audience exceeding 2,000 people.
“We tried to pick parts that highlight the best work of our performers,” Hale said. “Winning this award puts our youth theatre program on the map.”
Hale also won an award himself, as one of eight instructors selected for the Freddie G. Fellowship. Hale will receive $5,000 for the program and spend four days this summer in New York City working with Broadway and industry professionals.
“I’m blown away by this fellowship and am truly honored,” Hale said. “It is a coveted award among musical theater professionals and I couldn’t be happier to have won.”
Additional winners include Hale’s daughter, Abigail, who came away with the Outstanding Performance by an Individual for her role as Genie. Olivia Sturm of Union and Maia Vandervlugt of La Grande earned spots on the festival’s all-star group for their performances as well. Hale said winning these accolades showcases the dedication and hard work the students put in.
Getting to California was perhaps the second hardest task for the performers, right behind competing, according to Hale.
Each student paid for themselves through personal fundraising. The opera house helped offset the costs through small fundraisers or donating proceeds from some shows, but it’s up to the youths to cover the majority of the cost.
The festival also had opportunities for students to participate in workshops led by industry professionals, and a small team of students participated in the festival’s Tech Olympics, which tests the technical elements of theatre, such as lighting, sound, costume changes, rigging and more. Hale said the team did not make it to the final rounds, but for the group’s first year competing in that part of the festival, they had a lot of fun.
This was the opera house’s third year as part of the iTheater Junior Theater Festival. Going to this festival and competing, Hale said, is a wonderful opportunity for the students to meet people who share their interest and passion in theatre.
“Theatre is a creative outlet for some of these kids,” Hale said. “They may not go on to pursue it professionally, but at least while they are in the program they have a safe place to explore and learn.”