Young performers are ready to entertain audiences in Sunshine Coast Youth Theatre’s latest production

by SEANNA CRONIN

Christmas has come early for the performers and creatives at Sunshine Coast Youth Theatre. 

They’re back treading the boards, rather than their keyboards, after a tumultuous 18 months of virtual workshops and classes.

Rehearsals are well under way for Oliver! Jr, part of the company’s summer musical theatre camp program, which will culminate in shows held in Noosa and Caloundra in January. 

“We’re really lucky to be in this position – we know a lot of places still aren’t – and I don’t think any of us are taking it for granted,” director Madison Thew-Keyworth tells the Sunny Coast Times.

“There’s something magical about the energy in a room when you’re together; we’ve all come to appreciate that in the past 18 months.”

The company adapted to the pandemic by holding online classes, virtual rehearsals, socially distanced performances and even staging a full musical in 24 hours on Zoom.

“The time we spend together in a rehearsal room and connecting with people without the spotlight, I personally find that sometimes more rewarding and fulfilling (than performing),”Madison says.

“To lose that was really hard. But again, being able to have that technology to tune in with each other was like a lifeline for a lot of people when everything looked like it was going to be really bleak.

“It won’t ever replace being face to face, but to know we could be there as a support for our kids when they were going through a tough time was nice.

“The arts have been smacked pretty hard, but when you have passionate people they want to make things happen even in adversity.”

After a snap three-day lockdown nearly derailed a production of Grease earlier this year, Oliver! Jr marks a return to business as usual.

The company’s 22nd production, it features 50 performers ranging in age from six to 18.

“We had big cohort of Year 12 students perform in Grease, which was perfect for them. Oliver! is symbolic for us because a whole new generation is coming through,” Madison says.

“It’s a show that really celebrates youth. We get lots of kids from all over the Coast, from Caboolture all the way up to Gympie, who travel to be part of this show. It’s really fabulous to see them all coming together.”

After months of online learning, Oliver!’s themes of isolation and overcoming adversity have struck a chord with the cast.
“I like that for the entire show Oliver tries to find where he fits in and belongs in his life,” says Joe Kelly, 12, who plays the musical’s titular orphan.

“He’s always worked for someone but then he joins Fagin and he’s set free. He has a proper life with friends.”

Abby Erceg, who plays Nancy, says she loves the youth theatre’s welcoming and inclusive community. The 16-year-old made her SCYT debut four years ago in Beauty and the Beast.

“I have met so many different people through musical theatre. I’m friends with 12-year-olds and 18-year-olds,” she says. “It’s a lot different (to school) because you’re coming to a place dedicated to theatre and you all love the same thing.”

Madison, a Coast native, founded SCYT more than a decade ago to give local students a performing arts experience that didn’t involve driving to Brisbane.

“Back in 2009 I was working in the industry as choreographer and I was over in New Zealand working on a show. They had a holiday music program and I was like ‘This is amazing. Why don’t we have something like this?’ I came home and gave it a whirl and it was received so well. We did it as a showcase at first and then ventured into full classes and productions,” she says.

“It’s a pathway where kids can just do it for fun but for other kids this is what they’re aiming for as a career.”

This year marks a new chapter for the company with the first graduating class of SCYT’s Finishing School.

The pre-industry preparation course is designed to help Year 12 students understand pathways into the performing arts industry, industry standards and how to prepare for auditions and applications.

“We can provide them with real industry training so the step to the next level isn’t such a drastic leap,” Madison says.

“We’ve had seven Year 12 students training throughout the year. The course has helped them understand what an agent is, how to prepare for an audition and how the industry works. We brought in lots of industry professionals to do special workshops with them. Then in association with Mad About Theatre, they interned in a professional production.

It’s really exciting to see that kids are having these opportunities I wasn’t able to have when I was growing up.”

Oliver! Jr plays The J Noosa on Saturday, January 15, and The Event Centre Caloundra on Sunday, January 16. Visit sunshinecoastyouththeatre.com.au.