While attending the world’s largest festival for musical theater, Wylie students not only built lasting memories, but learned how overcoming adversity can reap high rewards.
Kayleb Burns, Ashtyn Kershner, Aria Kershner, Reece Harvey, Hallie Hughes, Gwen Powell, Christian Robinson-Liggins, Paisley Holt, Ryan Trahan, and Saya Mueller performed at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. “This [festival] is not at all what I expected but possibly better than I expected,” said Ashtyn. The three-day festival is attended by more than 6,500 people and combines performances, workshops, and activities for students ages 8-18 and educators.
The ten Wylie students are part of the AbiLENE 18, an acting troupe of 18 students from junior high and high schools around Abilene. Director Camille Zimmerman said the students have worked hard for months and described them as some of “Abilene’s finest talent.”
On January 14 the troupe performed a 15-minute compilation of scenes from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Zimmerman said the troupe faced unexpected technical difficulties while performing.
“…there was a soundboard error that changed the key and tempo of their song,” said Zimmerman. “They powered through and still sounded amazing.”
“We really adapted and did awesome even though our soundtrack messed up,” said Wylie West seventh grader Saya Mueller.
Wylie Junior Aria Kershner said the audience of about 80 people responded positively to their performance. “We got a standing ovation and people came up to us asking for pictures.”
They had success, no doubt – the AbiLENE 18 was awarded with “Best in Musical Excellence”. An award Zimmerman said required them to score in the top 16 out of 130 troupes from around the nation and world.
In addition to performing, the students met others their age who share a love for acting and connected with professionals from New York and Atlanta.
Wylie freshman Reece Harvey said she enjoyed meeting so many people from different places like Australia, the United Kingdom, Illinois, South Carolina, California, and Texas. Fellow freshman Kayleb Burns said being surrounded by so many others who share his passion was a new experience.
“It was exciting when you walked in [to festival] and saw hundreds of kids all there for the same thing…and everyone around you asking to trade bracelets to remember the journey by,” said Kayleb.
Many of them met Disney’s Theatrical Group President and Producer Thomas Shumacher who has extensive, diverse experience working for Disney since 1988.
Wylie West eighth-grader Christian Robinson-Liggins met Broadway actress Katy Geraghty. She has performed in Hairspray, Into the Woods, and Shrek the Musical. “We talked about becoming an actor and about the industry,” said Christian. “She gave a lot of good advice and was really nice.”
Eight of the Wylie students have been directed by Zimmerman since elementary school, performing together since third and fourth grade. Zimmerman taught for Wylie ISD before opening her own performing arts studio. Other Abilene students in the troupe include Catleyn Cervantes, Brinley McAdams, Jack Doty, Braxton Parris, Brody Parris, Amaya Myers, Claire Trammell, and Lizzie Trammell.
All involved made this trip memorable for Wylie West seventh grader Gwen Powell. Gwen said having fun with her castmates and with new students who share her passion was what she enjoyed most.
Wylie freshmen Ryan Trahan couldn’t choose what made it the best.
“Everything about this trip was amazing,” said Ryan. “From meeting the Aussies to performing and getting Best in Musical Excellence.”
By Kristen Johnson
Photos courtesy of Kristen Johnson, Mrs. Z’s Performing Arts Studio, Wylie Students and Parents