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Help The Wedding Singer Make It To Internationals!



Located on the Southwest coast of Florida nestled next to Lemon Bay and half way between Fort Myers and Tampa is a very small town with one high school and less than 1400 students. The town is a melting pot of transferred families, retirees, multi-generational “locals,” working class, the extremely impoverished, and the exceptionally wealthy. Englewood is almost two hours from an airport, a major theatre, or metropolitan area, and the largest single employer in town is Walmart. Englewood has been hit particularly hard by the recession and the real estate bust since a large majority of the town consists of blue collar workers and realtors. Almost every student that attends the school has at least one family member unemployed or living on subsidized income. And yet, out of the ashes, a phoenix has risen. Within Lemon Bay High School sits a powerhouse theatre program run by one full time theatre teacher, a young woman in her early thirties named Jennifer Kelly, and backed by a phenomenal community that surges together for every show, digs deep into their wallets, and help make the dreams of their local thespians come true. Due to budget restraints and the local economy, the program is completely self sufficient and relies completely on donations and ticket sales. And yet thousands stop what they are doing every time the high school puts on a show, drag their friends, call their neighbors, and purchases tickets in bulk. They brag to family and friends up north that “their kids are better than Broadway!” That “their kids are phenomenal and they never miss a show!” And somehow these kids, most of who have never performed until high school, few that have taken any type of musical theatre training, and even fewer that come from families who could never have financially supported their artistic aspirations were recently selected by International Thespian Society judges as one of the “Top Seven” high school theatre programs in the world! How does talent spring from this little town? How did this small town in Florida far from the artistic support and energies of big cities position itself as one of the best high school theatre programs in the world? Here is the story of their journey. In 1980, a young woman named Sherie Ragan moved to Englewood, FL with her husband and two small children. The eldest of her two children was five year old Jennifer, the future director of Lemon Bay High School Theatre. Sherie was an aspiring actress, and dreamed of performing and directing despite earning a more “credible” degree in English from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. Sherie started the program at Lemon Bay High School, teaching mixed days of English, Speech, Reading, and Theatre, slowly convincing administration and the School Board to expand the theatre program. Productions started slowly, first in the cafeteria, then the gymnasium where audience members dined on the basketball court while watching performers grace them with songs of Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 1990, Sherie’s dream came true and the county finally built a beautiful, large auditorium in support of the arts in Englewood. Her program grew and the caliber of her productions soared. Among her biggest fans, was her eldest child, Jennifer, who imitated her every move walking around with clipboards, writing little plays for her Sunday School, and eventually directing her first musical, “The Wizard of Oz” in ninth grade. In 1998, Sherie’s husband, Walt Ragan (the former math teacher and wrestling coach at Lemon Bay High School), took a job in St. Louis and they relocated. A mere two years later, Sherie’s daughter, Jennifer Kelly, was all grown up and moved back to Englewood to take over at the helm of the theatre program. As soon as Jennifer took over the program, she hit the ground running. Growing up the daughter of two teacher, training with the great Richard Morse for her undergraduate work at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, her time studying in England, and specializing in Educational Theatre for her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction at Colorado Christian University set her up for the years to come. Jennifer considers herself a unique teacher, and uses eccentric methods to inspire her students. “I saw their brilliance deep within them and pushed them to believe in themselves and each other. I encouraged them to take ownership of their program, to feel pride in their efforts, and to bless their audiences. I reminded them daily that the only thing in their way was themselves, and to come together as a family! I implored them to dream big, act even bigger, and reach every day for greatness. Well- greatness has arrived at our door step, their big dreams came true, and they have "acted" bigger than anyone else in the world!” said Jennifer Kelly. The Lemon Bay High School Theatre students performed their production of “The Wedding Singer” in November 2008 for a panel of state judges, and were selected in early January as one of the “Top Eight” to Mainstage at the State Festival. This is their fourth time winning this honor having taken “Seussical: The Musical” in 2005, a workshop performance of “Swing” in 2006, and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2007. The day of reckoning finally arrived this past Saturday when Lemon Bay performed two back to back performances of “The Wedding Singer” to roaring crowds. Amidst the adoring teenage fans, were three International judges secretly watching the 6 PM performance, clip boards in hand. The cast and crew went on to finish the 6 PM showing with a standing ovation, took a twenty minute break between shows while another thousands eager Florida Thespians raced to their prime seats, and they did it all over again…no surprise…receiving another standing ovation! The International judges on the other hand headed home, blown away, and sent their critiques to headquarters. It was unanimous. Lemon Bay High School Theatre was selected as one of the “Top Seven” high school theatre programs in the world, and invited to perform at the International Thespian Festival in late June which is held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lemon Bay’s thespians have made such an impression on the attending judicators that they advised the board to schedule “The Wedding Singer” as the final performance of the festival to set it up as the big show to end the week, and get all of the 3000+ students in attendance “pumped and excited about attending next year!” News of the invitation was received midday Tuesday, April 28th. The joy of receiving the coveted invitation quickly faded to hopeless as the students investigated the costs. Each student is responsible for coming up with $555 a person to cover their registration, room and board just to attend the festival. A virtually impossible feat, there are 53 kids in the cast and crew making a registration bill of $32,000 due by May 15th to cover the students and three chaperones. That doesn’t cover air fare or production costs to bring the semi truck full of scenery, props, and costumes or the technicians and musicians to perform. The estimated total cost needed to be raised by mid June would be $75,000. This sum of money is not realistic for a small town to support, and the reality that it may be impossible for them to attend is a very real possibility without a miracle. The cast and crew of “The Wedding Singer” is praying, begging, and asking for that miracle to happen! The kids are still in a state of shock, and honored to have been asked. They will hold in their hearts forever the amazing truth that they performed above and beyond the rest of the world! They will know their hard work, sacrifices, and lofty goals paid off. They will cleave to the memory of how to achieve greatness because as Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” And as one senior recently commented at his Senior Farewell banquet, “If it hadn’t have been for Lemon Bay’s Theatre program, I wouldn’t be here today. My childhood was unimaginable; I was taken from my parents and transferred to my grandparents by the state of New York. I moved here a total punk and was expelled my freshman year. Obviously, throughout high school, I was very lost. I didn’t know who to be, where to go, or what to do, but I knew one unassailable truth- no matter what else was going on I had to be at theatre every day at 3:30 PM.” Florida hasn't been represented at the International Thespian Festival in over ten years. This honor is so much bigger than Lemon Bay High School or Englewood, Florida. It honors the state of Florida! It honors high school performers everywhere. It inspires art teachers on the brink of quitting due to budget cuts and lack of support. It inspires that child actor or actress that doesn't think they could ever make it to Broadway because they can't afford dance shoes or vocal lessons. It inspires communities to rally together to believe in its youth! And most importantly of all- it honors our community, our school, our families, our children, and our dreams. No one is too small to dream! Thank you for telling the world about the incredible and virtually impossible accomplishment of our small town. In order to raise the funds, the cast is holding a drive: “THE ROAD TO INTERNATIONALS - 1500 at $50 CAMPAIGN.” The concept is to find 1500 people who believe in these kids and their cause and help this small, underdog school go global by pledging just $50. The contact at the Educational Theatre Association (EDTA) is Diane Carr at (513) 421-3900. Information on the International Thespian Festival can be found at www.edta.org. The list of 2009 International Thespian Festival main stage productions includes: Dubuque (Iowa) Senior High School, Troupe 69, John Cariani’s Almost, Maine The Missouri All-State Show production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Forever Plaid by Flower Mound (Texas) High School, Troupe 6154 Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch, by Harry S Truman High School, Troupe 5008, Levittown, Pennsylvania The Memorial High School, Troupe 2980, production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda Woolverton Joe DiPietro’s All Shook Up by the Ohio All-State cast and crew Lemon Bay Senior High School, Troupe 257, production of The Wedding Singer, Englewood, Florida Lemon Bay High School theatre is under the artistic direction of Jennifer Kelly (Grease, Cats, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Swing!), choreographer Sarah Baer (And 5, 6, 7, 8 Dance Studio), Assistant Producer Sherie Ragan (former LBHS Director from 1980-1997), and Music Director Jaclyn Cushman, and vocal coach Sharon Ponte. For more information, please contact Lemon Bay High School Theatre Director, Jennifer Kelly at (941) 626-0688. The contact at the Educational Theatre Association (EDTA) is Diane Carr at (513) 421-3900. Information on the International Thespian Festival can be found at www.edta.org. The list of 2009 International Thespian Festival main stage productions includes: Lemon Bay Senior High School, Troupe 257, production of The Wedding Singer, Englewood, Florida Dubuque (Iowa) Senior High School, Troupe 69, John Cariani’s Almost, Maine The Missouri All-State Show production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Forever Plaid by Flower Mound (Texas) High School, Troupe 6154 Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch, by Harry S Truman High School, Troupe 5008, Levittown, Pennsylvania The Memorial High School, Troupe 2980, production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda Woolverton Joe DiPietro’s All Shook Up by the Ohio All-State cast and crew Lemon Bay High School theatre is under the artistic direction of Jennifer Kelly (Grease, Cats, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Swing!), choreographer Sarah Baer (And 5, 6, 7, 8 Dance Studio), Assistant Producer Sherie Ragan (former LBHS Director from 1980-1997), and Music Director Jaclyn Cushman, and vocal coach Sharon Ponte. Visit Lemon Bay High School Theatre’s website at: http://www.lbhstheatre.com/ To help the Lemon Bay High School Thespians get to Internationals, donations can be sent to: LBHS Theatre Wedding Singer International Fund, 2201 Placida Rd, Englewood, FL 34224 or Online donations can be made by credit card through the established fund in memory of Englewood Sun Herald reporter, Grace Gilbert, at: http://gulfcoastcf.org/page27421.cfm?ecomfundid=10045661 See our news coverage on NBC-2: http://www.nbc-2.com/articles/readarticle.asp?articleid=29472&z=3 A student produced VNR can be seen at: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NuX5jQLzt_8&client=mv-google&gl=US&hl=en See us on BROADWAYWORLD.COM http://broadwayworld.com/article/Small_Town_High_School_Reaches_For_The_Stars_Wins_Honorary_Thespian_Competition_20090511 Visit our MYSPACE page at: http://www.myspace.com/471600001 Join our FACEBOOK CAUSE at: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/280210/321622?m=1a240be5 You can see the pictures from live performances of “The Wedding Singer” at: http://www.englewoodbay.com/wedding-singer.html http://www.englewoodbay.com/wedding-singer-II.html

Related MTI Shows: The Wedding Singer

Created by Jerry Morse (1970 days ago)

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