Preserving the fine art of theater and musicals is something that people are doing worldwide, but here in Pittsburgh, there are a few youth troupes being recognized for it. The Academy at Westinghouse, which just opened this past fall, was recently selected as one of the first 20 schools across the nation to participate in NBC's "Smash: Make a Musical" program, a new initiative from NBC and iTheatrics' Junior Theater Project which will build self-sustaining musicals in schools.
The program will guide school teachers step-by-step through creating stand-alone arts programs and aims to engage as many students as possible in all aspects of the arts. The schools such as The Academy at Westinghouse receive quite a few incentives, including a free Broadway Junior ShowKit that includes the rights to perform a musical, two master classes with iTheatrics' New York based master teachers, a local project advisor, two teacher stipends, and a technical theater fund.
Another local group being recognized is the Jeter Backyard Theater from Gibsonia. They earned multiple awards at this year's Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia: the "Freddie G Outstanding Achievement in Music," and "Freddie G Hardest Working Male" for one of their students. They also had two more students named to the festival's Broadway Jr. All-Stars.
This isn't the first time that the Jeter Backyard Theater has enjoyed success at the festival. Last year they earned the "Freddie G Outstanding Production" award and the year before that received the "Freddie G Broadway Junior Spirit Honorable Mention." The Spirit Award is the highest honor groups can achieve at the festival.
The Jeter Backyard Theater's Founder and Director, Christie Jeter, thinks that attending festivals such as this is a great opportunity for her students. "Meeting kids from all over the country who love the same thing as us was really great," Jeter said.
The group has also enjoyed working with and creating friendships with kids from Texas to North Carolina. Some of the teachers from these schools, including Jeter, have begun working on a possible collaboration that the kids can work and be together on because they feel that "it is a very social and developmental experience for them."
The Jeter Backyard Theater came directly from where it sounds like it came from: Jeter's backyard. The group started with 22 kids from their neighborhood, where they would have music rehearsals around the piano in Jeter's living room and stage the show in the backyard. The group has now grown to over 500 kids across 6 school districts and does 8 productions per year, with Jeter using 2 or 3 casts per show because the group uses a "no-cut policy" which allows everyone, including those with handicaps or disabilities, to participate in their shows.