For the last decade, a youth show at Tauranga Musical Theatre – TMT – has been staged, involving actors aged 10-18 years.
This summer, the youth theatre reaches their ten-year milestone with The Little Mermaid Junior opening on January 18.
The first two youth shows in 2009 and 2010 were written by local writers, followed by mostly junior versions of full stage shows, such as Aladdin Junior and Beauty and the Beast Junior.
Adam Herbert, who started at age 13 and now works in theatre in Wellington, sums up his Tauranga youth theatre experience with one word: “Spectacular.”
“I was in Year 8, auditioning for the full version of The Wizard of Oz,” says Adam. “I didn’t get in as a munchkin, but got in to their summer intensive youth programme.”
Involved for three years, he paused to focus on his NCEAs before returning in Year 13 to play Jafar in Aladdin Junior. While away at Victoria University studying theatre and film, TMT advertised for a director for the 2018 production of Wizard of Oz Junior, so he returned to direct it.
“The difference between a junior and full show is they do a more child-friendly abridged version of the script,” he explains, “condensing down the three-hour stage musical to the main plot points in a one-act piece. It’s about 60 minutes, it’s performed by youth and targets a youth audience.”
TMT president Elise Rohde has helped push the youth programme along, crewing on the lighting team for the first production and enjoying watching its development over the last ten years.
“Eight from the youth programme have gone to drama school,” says Elise, “mostly at NASDA in Christchurch. Some have returned and done production roles for us, like Adam.
“Having the junior shows in January makes it possible for those away at university to come back and get involved.”
With eight years behind her, Ashleen Fahy is well-experienced. She’s the musical director for upcoming show Spring Awakening in April, having already displayed her talent in the same role for both Shrek Junior and Catch Me If You Can.
She’s also a talented performer, most recently starring as the dragon and gingerbread man in Stage Right Trust's 2018 production of Shrek. Ashleen also co-leads TMT’s youth programme. She brings a vocal strength to the productions, teaching harmonies, making sure vocals are cohesive and developing the singers’ potential.
“You make friends so quickly,” says Ashleen. “Being able to see the development of the little kids as they start and go all the way through, ending up as leads when they’re older, is amazing.”
The out-of-school 10-18 years’ youth programme that Ashleen and Sarah Coleman run on Fridays is free to members.
“Last year we had over 20 kids, and worked on performance and development, giving them individual attention.”
“There have been about 100 who have been through the programme over the last ten years,” says Elise. “They also learn confidence and theatre etiquette, and most have gone on to study theatre or drama.
“They are generally singer-dancers, or singer-actors. There’s room for anyone because with confidence, they can do all of those things.”
“With the junior shows we like to have new people every year so they can develop,” says Ashleen. “If you’re interested in musical directing, choreography or directing, it’s a really good platform and an opportunity to give it a go.”