Eight-year-old Luna flitted around the audition warm-up area at Actors’ Playhouse literally bouncing for her chance to get on stage. “Oh, yes, she’s got plenty of confidence,” mother Nelly Plaza said. “She just loves to dance and perform.”
Little Luna, who attends South Miami K-8 and has been taking dance lessons for four years, was one of one hundred contestants who attended an audition for Young Talent Big Dreams, a countywide talent search for ages 8-17 sponsored by The Children’s Trust and run by Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre.,
A total of six auditions are held as part of the competition, this year in its third year, at different venues around the county. This fourth audition was held at the Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. Two others were held: At Paul C. Bell Middle School on March 2 and at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on March 16.
While most the performers brimmed and bubbled with confidence like Luna, a few needed some support to warm up – and get used to performing in front of judges on a professional stage.
When his number 449 was called, 9-year-old Antwane shuffled down the long aisle and stepped up onto the big stage to perform.
Antwane settled behind the gleaming Ludwig full drum set, unzipped his black bag and slid out a pair of drum sticks. Then he stared out towards the judges and the huge Actors’ Playhouse theater.
“Go ahead and get warmed up, make some noise,” Earl Maulding, emcee for the countywide talent show, urged him. The little drummer stood motionless, the sticks stuck to his hands.
“We’re here to listen, you’re not being judged yet. Bang around some, practice,” Maulding encouraged. Still silence.
At last, Antwane pounded one of the tomtoms.
“That’s it, go ahead, just play around a bit, we’ll start soon.”
The silence echoed again in the theater. After a few more attempts, the judges agreed to play some music along with Antwane. With the added prompt, he was soon tingtinging on the cymbals and got a good groove going for his “Gospel Glory” audition piece.
“Everyone who came out and participated was thankful,” said Melody Fakhourie, Education Outreach manager at Actors’ and talent coordinator for the competition. “To step onto a professional stage was really major for them. Those that moved forward were excited for the opportunity offered by this special project.”
Violist Zaria Graves, who attends Southwood Middle’s music magnet and plays in Greater Miami Youth Symphony’s concert orchestra, awaited her chance to audition surrounded by her family – father Gade Graves, mother Sharolyn, and sisters Ciera and Laney. For the judges, Graves performed a sophisticated classical piece. Learning to bow correctly, she told them, was the most challenging. And “oh, yes,” she definitely sees herself performing on stage in the future, she added with a big smile.
The cadre of judges for the two days – jazz singer Lynn Noble; performance artist Christina Alexander; actor Don Seward; Miami Herald critic Howard Cohen; Natalie Lewis, co-founder of a local Hip-Hop organization; theater director Damaris Lopez- Canales; and poet Cara Nusinov – shared the challenging job of wheedling down to 16 the number of performers to pass on to the semifinal and final rounds that takes place in April.
Seward was himself once a finalist for a National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, a similar completion held nationally. “I was once there, like these kids. This is my chance as a judge to help and guide others,” he said.
Alexander, named New Times’ 2012 Best Actress and who recently opened a onewoman show, spent 10 years teaching theater and voice in area schools.
“After teaching for so many years, I really want to see what’s coming out of our schools these days. There’s some real talent,” she said.
She might have been referring to Jaquan Greene.The 16-year-old student from American High certainly needed no prodding for his performance. Dressed in orange slacks and a tropical shirt, Greene owned the stage, delivering an inspiring rendition of Cristine Perri’s“Who Do You Think You Are?”
The judges, obviously impressed, had questions for the singer when he finished.
“Who are your inspirations?”
“Michael Jackson and Chris Brown,” replied Greene, who cut a striking resemblance to a young M.J.
“So you dance, too? You can tell – it was hard for you to keep from moving on stage, right?” “You’re in the music program there at American?”
“I was before they cut it.” Young Talent Big Dreams, this year in its third year, helps to fill a critical gap for the tens of thousands of youngsters with a passion for the arts and who dream of a career one day. While schools, themselves facing tough budget reductions and stringent requirements to meet testing standards, have been forced to trim arts programs and activities, Young Talent offers a venue for performance, experience and the opportunity for training and support.
The 96 contestants in all categories – 16 from each of the six auditions – that move on to the semifinals and finals stand to earn some excellent prizes to further their artistic development. Prizes range from master classes with professional artists, to scholarships and attendance at concerts and show – all part of the important exposure that young artists need, especially those with limited means.
The motivations to audition and compete are many and varied, but many of the children simply enjoy the chance to share something they love.
Destiny, a 10-year-old who attends Pinecrest Prep Academy, performed her version of Demi Lovato’s “This Is Me.” Poised and confident, she seemed completely at ease on stage and offered an impressive performance.
“So you’re very comfortable up there on stage,” a judge asked when she’d finished.
“Oh, no, I’m a very shy girl.”
“Shy, you’re kidding, right? Well, what are doing up there on stage then? “
”The music gives me inspiration. I really like to sing,” Destiny replied.