When I stepped into the Empress Theatre in July 2011, I had no idea what to expect from the 36 kids who had signed up to be a part of the very first EYT experience. I knew almost none of them, and I was terrified that this crazy plan I had pitched to put on a whole show in just 16 rehearsals might just be crazy. Fortunately for me, we had some very talented participants in that first show including Luke Johnson as Willy Wonka, a seasoned actor ready to mentor the rising generation, and Travis Hymas, a twelve year old with bright eyes and lots of potential. The show, Willy Wonka, Jr. was perfect for this combination of experience and youth, and that year's workshop experiences provided the most fun I have ever personally had at EYT.
The momentum of such a successful first year propelled us to take on the challenge of Beauty and the Beast, Jr., a project of such epic proportions that I still look back in wonder on the fact that we fit the costumes through the entrances, let alone pulled of a show jam packed full of production number after production number. Alice in Wonderland, Jr. grew us to our highest enrollment numbers to date and eventually after successfully running a program with 72 children on stage, the Empress show selection committee decided to allow EYT to take on a full-length production.
Under the energetic direction of Chalese Craig, EYT pulled off its first ever full-length musical, The Wiz. Wanting to help the youth in the program to continue to grow, we then took on the lesser known Li'l Abner, featuring over two hours of lightning-speed lyrics, tight harmonies, and over 40 named characters. I am so proud of the resulting production, and I couldn't have asked to work with a more efficient production staff.
Having done all of that, it was difficult to decide where the program should head next. However, one idea kept running through the production staff dialogue through this year's rehearsal practice. "We have no time to have fun!" Jackie Casdorph, our music director and my mom, reminded me that I used to tell stories of the games I would play with the EYT kids. The calmer moments I had to sit and discuss important things with them. The bonds that were formed. The dreams that were shared.
Pushing the EYT kids to produce bigger and better shows each year, I almost lost sight of that incredible first year. Can we put on a full-length musical in three weeks? Yes, we can! But at what cost?
I am excited to announce that EYT will be returning to a junior show for the 2017 season, working together to perform Honk, Jr., a musical retelling of the tale of the ugly duckling. While in my heart I know this is the best decision for the program, I worry about kids who may think we are taking a step back. I assure you, we are not! Hold tight as more components to the program will be announced, including details about a preshow performing group that will allow more opportunities for half-day soloists and a better training ground for singing harmonies and learning solid dance foundations.
I know it is only August, but plan ahead now! Workshops begin July 10, 2017. I can't wait to see which of you will be joining me in this next phase of the journey.
Andrea K. Fife