BAM dazzles on national stages

Local youth capture high honors for performances at prestigious theater festivals

Of the three primary theater disciplines - acting, singing and dancing - BAMtheatre artistic director Melanie Lamoureaux knew dance was an area where her young troupe needed to step it up.

So earning the top Freddie G Excellence in Dance award at last weekend's Junior Theater Festival West in Sacramento, Calif., was a showstopper.

"We generally have students who can sing very well and act very well," Lamoureaux said. "This year it was really our goal to perfect every single movement, and we've seen so much growth in this particular group of students.

"For them to get the recognition in that category, I thought, was totally awesome," she remarked.

The BAM Conservatory Ensemble, consisting primarily of high schoolers, performed a 15-minute scene from "Into the Woods Jr." for the JTF West competition, which brought together more than 100 groups from around the country and as far away as Seoul, South Korea.

Eighth-grader Tommy King said the experience was powerful.

"I was a little nervous but it felt great to be performing in front of people who get the material, people who have a passion for theater," he said.

Hearing their feedback was especially enriching.

"It was really cool hearing the detailed lists of what we did amazing on and what we could improve on."

Festival judges' comments showed their high regard for the effort.

"The inventive choreography was executed beautifully by the cast. Each cast member was engaged and delightful while taking positive risks. I expect to see a lot of these students on Broadway. It's clear BAM treats their students like the pros they are and encourages their talents," wrote Steven Kennedy, iTheatrics vice president of publications.

iTheatrics master teacher Derek Bowley was similarly impressed.

"The performers brought not just the characters, but also the entire fairytale world of 'Into the Woods' to life in front of our eyes using just their bodies. Musically, they gave us everything you could want: crisp diction, thoughtful dynamics and supported singing. I can see these young performers are getting solid training," he wrote.

Fellow ensemble member Miette Morris, a Hinsdale Central junior, said receiving such praise from those not affiliated with BAM was motivating.

"I think it really boosted group morale," she said. "I think it was cool to hear what people had to say about our interpretation of ('Into the Woods')."

Morris said they had numerous chances to interact with other groups at the festival while rehearsing - inside and outside - or touring Sacramento.

They also embraced the custom of bracelet trading.

"By the end we had a collection of 10 to 20 bracelets, all from different groups around the world," she said. "It was a really special experience for bonding and creating friendships that you really didn't think you were going to have."

JTF West was actually the company's second triumph this year, with the first delivered by the Jr. BAM Conservatory Ensemble at the Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta in January.

"We took home the highest possible level award, which is called 'Outstanding Production' " Lamoureaux said of the fest, where ensemble members performed a cut from "Matilda Jr." "Out of the 125 groups (at the festival), nine get that award. The prize is they got to perform on the mainstage - and there were over 6,000 people in attendance."

First-year JCE member Saira Joshi, 11, felt inspired being surrounded by an international cast of theater enthusiasts.

"It was really fun to see how many people from all over the world came together to watch groups perform," she said. "It really made me want to keep acting."

Joshi and fellow JCE member Olivia Tobolski said the workshops offered as part of the event were educational and great places to meet others.

"You got to sing with (fellow competitors) and dance with them, which was a really fun bonding experience," Joshi said.

"You know you're not alone," Tobolski said of the journey they all share. "They know exactly

what you feel."

Lamoureaux suggested those rewards are just as valuable as the hardware they bring home.

"It's so cool for them to see the similarities and also the differences from all of those different kinds of communities from all across everywhere," she said. "The spirit of the weekend is not very competitive. It's all about building each other up and celebrating one another. I think that's really important for the students to experience and ignite their passion even more."

But back to competitive aspect, members of both troupes said there were screams of elation upon learning of their wins.

"We were all just proud of each other, proud of what we'd done, and just excited and shocked," said King, giving credit to their choreographer.

Joshi said collecting their award was the perfect conclusion.

"It was really exciting to be up in front of all those people," she said.

Both award-winning productions will be performed in a special double feature March 3 and 4. Turn to Page 22 for more information.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean