Gibsonia's Jeter Backyard Theater thespians have strong showing on national stage

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:48 p.m.

A younger group of students from Jeter Backyard Theater are proving they have the talent to compete on the national stage at the 2013 Junior Theater Festival.

Though this was the fourth year the Gibsonia-based theater company has participated in the festival, held annually in Atlanta, it was the first time for many of the 22 Jeter Backyard Theater students, ranging in age from 8 to 14, to attend. The local performers didn't let their inexperience at the festival hinder their presentation.

“I was extremely proud of their performance in their adjudication,” said Christie Jeter, director of the theater group.

“I felt we left nothing on the table.”

The students performed a medley from “Disney's The Little Mermaid JR.” to be adjudicated by musical theater professionals.

A number of students were recognized for their talents.

“One of the things Jeter does that is always wonderful is they use all of their students well,” said Marty Johnson, director of education for iTheatrics. “Christie and her team have found ways to highlight each individual student to make them shine the best way they can.”

Following the adjudication, the festival organizers recognized Jake Pedersen, an eighth-grader at Pine-Richland Middle School, in part for his performance of Flounder, the fish, by presenting him with the Freddie G Outstanding Male Performance award.

“I was thrilled and shocked, I just screamed,” Pederson said. “I've never won anything like that before.”

Pedersen has been a member of Jeter Backyard Theater for several years but this was his first time attending the festival. Pedersen said he was surprised to see so many boys in the more than 4,000 students and teachers at the festival.

“I got to see a bunch of great actors and performers and really feel like I learned a lot,” Pedersen said, adding that he will take the lessons to the high school stage when he plays young Josh in “Big, the Musical.”

Jeter Backyard Theater students Kaylee Bechtold and Gabe Schoone also received recognition and were named to the Broadway JR. All-Stars, made up of two outstanding students from each group at the festival. The all-star students performed the song “Oh, Bless the Lord” from “Godspell JR.” at the closing ceremonies.

Student Jessica Malandro was one of 10 students named to Tech Theater All-Stars and took part in technical theater.

Christie Jeter also received the Freddie G Award for Excellent Achievement in the Broadway JR. Slam competition in which students and teachers who don't know each other must stage and perform a song from a musical in an hour.

Even as a veteran festival attendee, Sadie Jeter, a fifth-grader at Pine-Richland, said she still looks forward to the event.

“In the festival, I feel like it's gotten more fun every year and we get a lot more use every year,” she said.

“It's really exciting because there are new kids coming up and … we're going to have some great years to come.”

“We have a long span of talent from little to big (students).”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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