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Young Pine-based thespians to visit Atlanta for theater event

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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Names of Atlanta-bound, Jeter Backyard Theater performers are: First Row: Brayden Stiscak, Mira Ramanathan, Clare Rectenwald, Liam Kress, Ava Grande and Madelyn Chamblin. Second Row: Janie Hodder, Grace Dugan, Kaylee Bechtold, Evan Grande, Aria Ramanathan, Claire Tobin, Sabrina Knox, Emma Hornfeck and Hayden Unitas. Third Row: Lauren Golias, Emma Ronk, Marin Laffey, Brianna Kutchko, Regan Kramm, Sadie Jeter, Carlin Szilagyi and Nathan Grande

Unlike rivals in school sports, competitors cheer and applaud each other at the annual Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.

“We inspire each other,” said Sadie Jeter, 11, of Pine.

Sadie, a sixth-grader at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School, is among 23 students slated to compete at the 2014 Junior Theater Festival — set for Jan. 17 to 19 — as part of Jeter Backyard Theater, a Pine-based troupe.

The young people, ages 7 to 13, will perform a 15-minute segment — without costumes — from “A Year with Frog and Toad KIDS,” a production they staged in November at the Kean Theater in Richland.

More than 90 groups from 28 states similarly will perform 15-minute shows at the 2014 Junior Theater Festival to win awards for qualities ranging from troupe spirit to technical excellence. Festival goers also will attend workshops.

“I like the workshops. They kind of get you pumped up for the 15-minute show, and they get you prepared,” said Evan Grande, 11, of Richland.

Evan will portray Toad in the Jeter Backyard Theater's performance at the festival in Atlanta.

“It's not really a competition. It's just having fun and doing what you love,” said Evan, who aspires to become a movie actor.

Organizers expect more than 4,500 students, teachers and Broadway professionals to attend the 2014 festival.

“The kids are so welcoming,” said Karina Grande of Richland, a mother of three children who is flying to the festival.

Daughter, Ava Grande, 8, will portray a squirrel in Jeter Backyard Theater's performance, and son, Nathan Grande, 13, will oversee the performance's lights and sounds.

As Toad, Evan will share one of the short show's lead roles.

“He's usually mad. He's not happy about anything,” Evan said about his stage character.

Director Christie Jeter, of Pine, started Jeter Backyard Theater in 2006 with 22 children in the backyard of her home in the Treesdale housing plan.

Today, Jeter Backyard Theater enrolls about 400 youths in its educational programs, and annually stages eight to 10 musicals at Kean Theater in Richland.

The troupe offers acting, singing and dancing classes to kindergartners through high school seniors at leased space in Treesdale Market Square, Pine.

“They're just a wonderful group,” said Allison Van Etten, spokeswoman for the annual Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.

Jeter, 45, a Berklee College of Music graduate, formerly taught music in Riverview School District.

Jeter's great uncle and great aunt — the late Joe and Alphretta Desimone — opened and ran the Sherwood Forest Theatre in Murrysville.

“It's an honor to carry on the legacy of teaching children's theater that our family holds so dear,” Jeter said.

“I was raised to believe that children can do anything,” she said. “I see it with my own eyes every single day.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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