Arkansas Students Participate in First MT Stage: Expressions Program at UA Little Rock

Students partricipating in the MT Stage: Expressions summer program organized by the Jodi Mahony Center for Gifted Education.

Dozens of Arkansas students honed their musical theatre talents and skills during the first MT Stage: Expressions summer enrichment program held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The UA Little Rock Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education hosted the summer program June 13-17 for junior high students who have a passion for musical theatre. The program was provided at no cost to participants thanks to a $15,000 Academic Enrichment for the Gifted in Summer (AEGIS) grant from the Arkansas Department of Education.

“The camp was extremely successful in that we were able to quickly establish a sense of community, a sense of teamwork, and a sense of belonging through our leaders who are experts in their fields,” said Dr. Christine Deitz, associate director of the Jodie Mahony Center. “The children were enthusiastic, and the leadership team was equally enthusiastic. We all had a common love of performance and musical theatre. That was the glue and the spark behind our program.”

MT Stage: Expressions! is designed to nurture young, aspiring performers while building self-confidence through teamwork and talent exploration. During this five-day program, participants partnered with Expressions! coaches for team-building exercises and engaged in workshops focused on lyric performance, stage performance, photography, and song expression.

Guest speakers included Rocky Gray, a musician and recording artist, Shay Rafferty, a theatre and stagecraft teacher at Little Rock Southwest Magnet High School, and Ben Krain, UA Little Rock photographer.

The participating students include Madilynn Anderson, a 7th grader from Ward; Jaylin Barry, an 8th grader from Little Rock; Michaela Brown, a 7th grader from Little Rock; Chloe Cadzow, a 7th grader from Haskell; Jonathan Carson, a 7th grader from Cabot; Arianna Cartwright, a 7th grader from Little Rock; Will Daniels, an 8th grader from Little Rock; Xoe Hawkins, a 7th grader from Alexander; Khylee Houston, a 7th grader from Little Rock; Gavin Kohrs, a 7th grader from Austin; Maddie Lee, an 8th grader from Maumelle; Braden Lisowe, an 8th grader from Benton; Addison Lumpkins, an 8th grader from Benton; Jessyca Maeweather, a 9th grader from Little Rock; Kaitlyn McKissick, a 7th grader from Conway; Alyvia Moore, a 7th grader from Cabot; Marshall Morrow, an 8th grader from Springfield; Vasily Nedosekin, an 8th grader from Little Rock; Ashton Parker, a 7th grader from North Little Rock; Sydney Phillips, a 7th grader from Little Rock; Abigail Schlup, a 7th grader from Booneville; Zoe Simon, a 7th grade from Cabot; Isabella Simoneaux, a 7th grader from Bryant; Ava Tillery, a 9th grader from Alexander; Brook Walton, a 7th grader from Austin; and Ella Zitzer, an 8th grader from Maumelle.

On June 17, the students had the opportunity to shine in a student showcase that included “Sprechgesang” (speaking lyrics), singing, rapping, and student-photographic works. Students also performed original choreography to “Surface Pressure” from “Encanto” as well as “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“It was a very meaningful experience,” Deitz said. “After three years of not being able to work with students in person, it was extremely meaningful for the instructors to come back to campus. Our students were so excited, it was like catching fire throughout the week. I’m very proud of the children for attending the program and the parents who made sure the children arrived on time. I’m grateful to the university for creating the space for us, and I’m grateful to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education for funding our program.”

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