Elgin Rehearsal

Moss Morris, playing Ursula, extends a hand to Ariel, played by Maddie Nordtvedt, during a rehearsal of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” behind the Elgin Opera House on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

ELGIN — Youth musical actors from the Opera House Youth Actors group in Elgin attended the Junior Theater Festival in Sugar Land, Texas, June 25-27 and came back to Oregon with a Freddie G. Excellence in Ensemble Work award from the national festival.

The ensemble, which has members from Wallowa County, Union County and Umatilla County, won the award despite their lack of live performances since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was really just refreshing to see everything going back to normal and watching our youth participate in a competition like this,” Terry Hale, director of OHYA, said. “I’m really proud of them because they worked so hard to get there. Half of the group was new and they had to deal with a lot.”

The group performed a 15-minute version of “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” which they had rehearsed for more than three months. They were one of 50 groups attending the festival in person, in addition to seven groups who joined virtually.

“Being back after a year filled with so much uncertainty felt amazing,” Hunter Adams, member of the youth musical group, said. “The environment was so full of love and support. I’ve never seen a competition like this, where everyone just wants everyone else to do well so badly, even more than we want ourselves to do well.”

Each performance was adjudicated by two judges, who praised OHYA’s performance for the group’s careful attention to detail.

“These students told this beautiful story which charmed the audience,” Cindy Ripley, senior educational consultant of iTheatrics, said in a press release. “Bravo to this group’s immaculate attention to every tool in the craft of theatre.”

Moss Morris, of La Grande, and Adams were distinguished as Junior Theater Festival All-Stars for their individual performances. According to Adams, a 2021 Elgin High School graduate, earning this award at the end of his junior theater career meant a lot.

“It just felt really good to be validated by judges who are professionals,” Adams said. “It was an amazing experience to win, and I’m really proud of everyone who was there.”

Along with performing and attending other shows, students participated in workshops to develop their performance skills. According to Adams, these classes were great opportunities to improve his own practices.

“We got to do a dance workshop with a dancer for ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway, and it was so interesting and we all learned a lot,” Adams said.

According to choreographer and OHYA alumna Abigail Hale, the group’s determination was inspiring.

“I felt really proud of them while I was watching them perform,” she said. “They worked so hard for such a long time, and they truly deserved it.”

Although Adams is saying goodbye to the Elgin Opera House as a performer, he will co-direct OHYA’s performance of “James and the Giant Peach” with Abigail Hale. He has hopes of performing on Broadway and is confident that the Opera House group will continue to succeed.

“I have no doubt that the group is going to do amazing things,” Adams said. “I’m so proud of everyone, and we’ve really shown what a group from a small town can do.”

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