By Deb Marciniak – Contributing Editor — July 11, 2021
Sugarland, TX – MelloDrama Productions, a local children’s theatre group founded and directed/produced by Neva Garrett, recently won the Excellence in Acting award at the JTF (Junior Theatre Festival) in Sugarland, Texas, held June 25-27th. The MelloDrama JTF 2021 Team, directed by 21-year-old Jonathan Marciniak, took a 15-minute cut of their mainstage production, Beauty and the Beast, Jr. to the internationally acclaimed theatre festival, and performed in front of Broadway professionals during the three-day event.
The Junior Theatre Festival (JTF), founded by Timothy Allen McDonald and produced by the Junior Theatre Group and iTheatrics, brings students, teachers, and Broadway professionals together to celebrate outstanding student musical theater productions. The festival includes performances, adjudications, workshops, special activities, and interviews with Broadway professionals.
Groups perform their 15-minute cut, complete with musical numbers, dancing, and acting, in front of adjudicators without costumes, stage makeup, sets, lighting, and only one prop. “In the mainstage production, we created a huge set for the Beast’s castle,” begins Jonathan Marciniak. “For the JTF performance, I had to find a creative way to help the audience visualize a bigger-than-life castle. I chose a unique technique of body sculpting…to create a castle with the actors’ bodies.” In addition to making the 15-minute performance visually appealing, the director worked with the cast to make it an emotional performance, including the use of sign language for the closing song, Beauty and the Beast. “Sign language is such a beautiful and powerful way to present a message,” says Jonathan. One of the Broadway professionals commented that MelloDrama’s performance was the most emotional Beauty and the Beast, Jr. performance he had experienced.
For MelloDrama’s JTF 2021 Team, this was a festival with many firsts. First JTF for 14 of the 16 cast members (ages 7-18), first-time the group traveled out of the state, and first-time director. “This Junior Theatre Festival experience was so special,” says Producer Neva Garrett. “It was our first ‘live’ festival after covid. It was also the first time we have traveled out of state. This cast and crew are the bravest, most resilient that I have ever worked with! They earned their awards through creativity, dedication, and hard work!”
In addition to receiving the Excellence in Acting award, the MelloDrama JTF 2021 Team received individual awards: Jewels Tillery – Outstanding Student Choreographer. Matilda McGuinness – All-Star Actress. Dante Bulos – All-Star Actor.
With this most recent JTF experience, Neva Garrett, who has been educating, directing, and producing local and regional theatre for more than 30 years, believes that “MelloDrama Productions is stronger and more focused than ever!” She and Jonathan look forward to working on JTF 2022 together. The show? Lion King, Jr! Auditions will be July 31st. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.