Caryl Crane Youth Theatre Wins National Awards


It was a 14-hour drive in a tour bus to reach Atlanta, Ga., but the payoff could not have been sweeter.  Competing in the 2017 iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival for the first time ever, Caryl Crane Youth Theatre walked away with two of the highest honors awarded and several more accolades.

The iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival is the world’s largest festival for student-driven musical theater programs and a monumental weekend of theatrical fellowship. Musical theater professionals from Broadway and beyond connect directly with one of the largest live audiences of artists and arts’ supporters of tomorrow. 

The 2017 edition of the event featured more than 5,000 students and educators from 115 educational musical theater groups representing 28 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia.

One of the larger contingents of the weekend, the CCYT group included 34 student performers and the entire entourage, including chaperones and parents, was nearly 60 people.

The CCYT student participants were Lottie Arnold, Cassie Battiste, Celia Chamberlain, Claire Daugherty, Bryce Dials, Kate Doyle, Josh Eastlake, Christopher Eirons, Lily Franks, Maisey Frederick, Marisa Graybil, Erica Henning, Nathan Hoty, Ryan Humphrey, Jack Kaple, Daniel Keener, Gracie Keener, Rebekah Klepper, Jake Koba, Alyssa Kranz, DeAreia Lanier, Caylin McCormick, Bryce Nevison, Alaina Parkinson, Ben Parnell, Hannah Piwinski, Katie Redmond, Liv Roth, Elijah Routh, Kelsey Swain, Jadyn Towns, Mary Vavroch, Holly Wenzinger and Tia Wightman.

CCYT staff attending the event included Melissa Bertolone (choreographer), Pierre-Jacques Brault (director), Carrie Hill Leech (music director), and Brian Marshall (artistic director).

“It was very exciting and many of the students were nervous,” said Marshall, who organized and led the group on the excursion.  “Twenty-four of the student had never even been on an over-night field trip, let alone compete in a national tournament,” he added.

The three-day event features the competition, but also included a heavy dose of education enrichment in the forum of workshops, presentations, and concerts.

“We were able to experience so many different styles of musical theatre,” said student Cassie Battiste. “It was really, really, cool.”

There was a high level of interaction between the various competition groups and friendship building was encouraged.  Students were required to view their competitors’ performances.

“The competition is important, but the greatest benefit for these students is the opportunity to meet, observe, and absorb the various facets of theatre from peers and professionals who appreciate and celebrate the arts, just like they do” said Marshall.

During the competition, each group performs a 15-minute selection of a musical for judging by a panel of distinguished theater professionals.  The CCYT performers, ages 8 through 18, presented a selection from their upcoming production of “Honk Jr.”

By the end of the competition, the CCYT performers collected a plethora of accolades including two of the highest honors the festival awards.  Distinctions included:

  • CCYT won the Freddie G. Group Award for Excellence in Music – an amazing achievement for a theatre group of its size.  “Honk! JR. is all about heart and this group had it. They were fully invested in their animal characters and, at the same time, obviously loved working together to tell this story,” said musical director Derek Bowley who has led many productions for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.,;
  • Student Gracie Keener (sister of The Voice’s Emily Keener) won the Freddie G Award for Excellent Individual Performance by a Female. “Gracie Keener is a powerful performer with a tremendous voice,” said Jennifer Katona, lecturer and director of The City College of New York's graduate program in educational theatre and recipient of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education's Lin Wright Special Recognition Award;
  • Students Jack Kaple and DeAreia Lanier were named Junior Theater Festival All-Stars (their version of MVPs) and earned a place in the closing showcase ceremony; and
  • Cassandra Battiste, Nathan Hoty and Bryce Dials were three of 142 students who received call-backs to shoot instructional choreography videos for soon-to-be released Broadway Junior musicals. Scheduled to be filmed in New York City this summer, the videos will be used in tens of thousands of schools across the country and internationally.

More than 75 competition groups walked away empty handed, but the CCYT group proved they had talent and could compete with the best of the best.

“I was so proud of our students and utterly impressed with their performances,” said Marshall.  “I’ve always believed that we have a special theatre group right here in tiny Huron, Ohio, and this competition proved me right,” he added triumphantly.

Win or lose, the experience was the most important part and everyone took away something from the competition.

“I learned that if you have a talent, just express it to the world and if someone doesn’t like it, don’t let it discourage you,” said student Jake Kaple.

Community members can see the full production of “Honk!” when it is performed by CCYT in the McBride Auditorium on the BGSU Firelands campus from February 2-5.  For additional information and tickets go to

Pictured above (left to right) are “Once on this Island” composer Stephen Flaherty, CCYT Director Brian Marshall, CCYT student Gracie Keener, “Once on this Island” lyricist Lynn Ahrens.  Photo credits to James Baker.