Midway through their candy-cane strut on stage at Santa’s outdoor Wonderland, the performers suddenly found themselves dancing and singing a cappella.
Their performance was a prelude to the much-anticipated arrival of Santa Claus at Penguin Park that night and the sound system had just gone out.
But the the show must go on.
Without missing a beat, the entertainers finished their number like the professionals they were trained to be.
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Yet, the performers weren’t seasoned actors. They were 26 Kansas City area youth — from seventh-graders to high school seniors — who had practiced their steps, rehearsed their lines, memorized lyrics and learned how to be part of a theater troupe in less than a year. They were the Starlight STARS of Tomorrow.
What did the students think when their instrumental accompaniment unexpectedly went silent?
“We’ve got to go with whatever happens,” said Jonathan Edens, 14, a freshman at Liberty High School. “I knew we had the talent and ability to finish the song.”
Four other Northland students were Starlight STARS of Tomorrow: Makana Brooks, 14, a freshman at Liberty High School; Brendan Elam, 13, an eighth-grader at Kearney Junior High School; Ryley Ernzen, 12, a seventh-grader at Kearney Middle School; and Ryann Hill, 16, a sophomore at St. Pius X High School.
The youth program of Starlight Theatre is designed to prepare students for any stage or environment they’re thrown into, said Andy Pierce, education coordinator.
Encountering and overcoming a technical difficulty is just one of those situations actors find themselves in.
“It’s halftime,” a student joked as they waited off stage while technicians worked on the equipment.
When the sound was restored, the Starlight STARS returned to the stage with energy and enthusiasm and finished the festive holiday medley with “Here Comes Santa Claus” — to the delight of the crowd that had gathered to celebrate the season.
Jonathan and the other students were selected by audition in the spring and performed on stage before Starlight’s Broadway shows this summer. They ended their season this month with holiday shows at area events throughout the city.
Are they the stars of tomorrow?
Some of them hope so.
“I want to do this for life,” Ryann Hill said. “I want to be on Broadway.”
Ryann is also active in theater at St. Pius, is a member of the school’s competitive choir and has taken dance and voice lessons.
“I’ve learned so much about performing from this program,” she said.
One important lesson learned is how demanding theater can be.
“You have to be committed,” she said. “There is no such thing as free time. If you have free time, you should be practicing.”
Alyssa Dunning, St. Pius theater director, has observed firsthand the benefits Ryann has realized from her experience as a Starlight STAR.
“The program has really taught her confidence and how to stand out in a crowd as well as at an audition,” Dunning said.
Dedication to the demands of the theater is expected.
Starlight STARS of Tomorrow are expected to commit fully to the program, said Amy Reinert, director of education and outreach, “by eliminating or greatly limiting scheduling conflicts, arriving on time for rehearsals and performances, remaining positive and ready to learn at all times and being open to constructive feedback.”
Auditions are rigorous. Students must sing a Broadway show song they have prepared, perform a monologue they have memorized and participate in a group dance.
Judges then select no more than 26 students for the season. Once accepted, students pay $400 tuition for the year.
Their first step toward appearing together on stage begins in late May with an intensive week-long camp. There they learn singing and dancing techniques, stage presence and other musical theater training.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour,” said Jason Elam, music director for the Starlight STARS. “We want to educate them about what the theater world is all about and develop a respect for the theater lifestyle and career.”
After camp come hours of rehearsals and performances at Starlight during the Broadway show season. National and local cast and crew professionals from every show conduct workshops for the students.
“We get a lot of mentoring,” said Makana Brooks.
The best part of being a Starlight STAR?
“Working with the professionals,” Jonathan Edens said.
Equally as important was the chance to get to know others who share their interests.
“New friendships and support,” said Ryley Ernzen.
Ryley and others expressed an interest in auditioning again next year. Since Starlight STARS of Tomorrow was founded in 2003, 243 students have been selected to participate.
“We require cast members to re-audition and be accepted into the program each year,” Reinert said.
Auditions for 2016 Starlight STARS of Tomorrow
9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27. Participants must arrive for check-in at 8:30 a.m.
7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1. Participants must arrive at 6:30 p.m.
Both auditions are at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City, MO 64132.
Reservations are required to audition. The program is open to students in seventh- through 12th grades.
For more information, visit the Website, www.kcstarlight.com or call Andy Pierce, education coordinator, at 816-997-1134.