Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

ELGIN — Several local children recently won a Freddie G Inspiration Award at the 2018 Junior Theater Festival West held in Sacramento, California. The 12-member Opera House Youth Actors, led by Elgin Opera House owner and OHYA! director Terry Hale, traveled to the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium and the Sacramento Convention Center Complex Feb. 9-11.

The Freddie G Inspiration Award is a national award given to an individual or a group of youth actors who showed the most enthusiasm and love for the theater. It was the final recognition given at the award ceremony.

“This is an award based on their behavior for the whole weekend,” Hale said. “These judges watched us in our prep. They looked at our attitude, how our kids supported each other and the way they supported and treated the other groups.”

When the other groups performed, Hale said that the OHYA! kids would stand for them and cheer for them, showing a good spirit toward others. When the judges gave them feedback, they sat respectfully and listened and nodded.

“Our actors really represented us well, and it stood out,” Hale said. “By the end of the weekend, the other groups knew who we were. Our kids were making friends with other kids. They were really an encouraging group of kids and I think the judges saw that.”

The judges said they clearly loved to perform, Hale said.

“The judges could tell our youth actors loved this,” he said, “and it came through in the joy of their performance. It’s kind of an X factor there — a look in their eyes, the way they emote and express themselves, perhaps more than other groups. It was the way our group stood out and their love for the theater that touched the hearts of the judges.”

For the festival, Hale and the actors chose to perform musical selections from “Seussical Jr.” — sometimes a difficult and intricate show for a junior production, but that’s also part of what inspired the judges.

“The judges thought they exhibited great energy for a small group of performers who had to play all the roles during the entire production,” Hale said.

The other groups competing at the festival were at least double or triple the size of OHYA!, which meant that each actor in those groups played a much smaller part of the overall production, whereas the OHYA! students had to give it their all for the entire 15 minutes without letup.

“They made it look easy, but it wasn’t easy,” Hale said. “The judges said, ‘Wow! You’re a small group, and you guys did this great big number.’ They were really impressed by that.”

Among those judges were Coy Middlebrook, director of ABC’s Musical Special ENCORE; Dean McFlicker, senior vice president and creative director of Original Production, Live Events and Promotional Programming, NBC Entertainment; and Nina Meehan, founding executive artistic director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre.

In the final analysis of the OHYA! performance, the judges had encouraging comments.

“Opera House Youth Actors created a fantastic world of Dr. Seuss,” Middlebrook said.

Concurring, McFlicker added, “Opera House Youth Actors had great energy. This group clearly loves to perform.”

Meehan said the rendition “brought the enthusiasm of a giant chorus to the jungle of Nool.”

Besides an award-winning performance by the OHYA! group as a whole, some actors within the group were recognized individually. Among them was Hunter Adams, who impressed Broadway Junior scouts.

Out of 1,500 people at the festival, 200 were invited to audition for future “how-to” choreography videos of soon-to-be released Broadway Junior musicals. They auditioned before iTheatrics resident choreographer Steven G. Kennedy, and 58 made it to the callback, including Adams.

The final cast will be determined later this year, and the videos will be shot in New York City this summer. These videos will be used in tens of thousands of schools across the world.

See complete story in Monday's Observer