Revelations from the judges’ seats at the Players’ Talent Explosion.
By Kay Kipling
When I agreed to be one of several judges for the Players Theatre Talent Explosion 2008, I had no idea what I was getting into.
Well, maybe some idea. I had to figure that at some point in the show (which benefits the Players Performing Arts Studio programs) I was going to be hearing at least one song from Annie; in fact, it turned out to be three. And as the date for the show, emceed by Cliff Roles and staged with a lot of assistance from Players’ artistic director Jeff Kin, approached, I did receive more nuggets of information: There would be tap dancing, hip-hop, a flamenco number, an operatic solo, magic acts and a performance to the theme from the TV show Love Boat by the Sarasota Senior Theatre. In fact there were 30 acts in all, and I admit I started to panic at the thought of sitting through them all and making snap decisions about the contestants’ fates. What if they were all dreadful?
Well, I needn’t have worried about that. Sure, there was some variation in quality from act to act, but to put it in professional theater critic terms, no one sucked. And several of the performances wowed me—although they were not necessarily the same ones that wowed my fellow judges. (Our distinguished panel included community theater artistic directors Rick Kerby and Murray Chase, along with Kin, plus circus aerialist Dolly Jacobs, rock star Twinkle and fellow critic Kim Cool.) Each of us filled out our tally sheets separately, and there was no time or intention for discussion among us. I did not know before the audience did who would be receiving the prizes, given at the elementary, middle and high school levels, along with an adult category and three group prizes with different criteria.
So while I certainly appreciated the work of the winners—Hannah Beatt belting out Tomorrow, Erin Weinberger dancing to Shine on Your Shoes, Samantha Quinn-Grutzner doing a lovely ballet interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, and Katy Knowles having fun with Last One Picked, plus dance troupe Ramalama and the kids moving to You Can’t Stop the Beat—I’d like to also give some nods to a few other performers. Notably: Savannah Ashford on Somewhere That’s Green, Erica Wilkes on Gimmee, Gimmee, Ashford again, paired with Ashley Kalantzis for Penniless Bums, and Taylor Foerster and Ashleigh Wheeler dueting on Defying Gravity. And most especially, middle schooler Maria Wirries for her rendition of New York, New York. Having seen the American Idol top 10 performers onstage in Tampa just two nights before, I couldn’t help but think that Wirries just could be our next Syesha.
Overall, though, as more than one judge was heard to say during the passing out of the prizes, all those hard-working performers onstage, living out their dreams for one night only, were winners. (Does that cover me?) And I enjoyed being a judge more than I would ever have expected. Sign me up for next year.