2024 Junior Theater Festival Appreciations and Reflections

If you’re not familiar with the Junior Theater Festival, take a moment to learn about this amazing event and organization HERE!

Tahoe Expedition Academy’s first-ever appearance at the JFT could not have gone better! Thank you to each and everyone of you who made it possible. In particular, we’d like to appreciate our very own Beth Gamboa for not only her tireless commitment to our school, but for also demonstrating the same passion for our students and their craftsmanship as she did in her recap that was recently shared with our parents! We love you Beth!


"Please enjoy all of these wonderful photos and videos from the weekend, and a big THANK YOU to all of my incredible chaperones! Not only for being our photographers/videographers, but also for helping us have such a successful and seamless weekend. I couldn't have done this without you all."

Wow….. each time I think about this past weekend my eyes start to tear up (surprise, surprise!). First and foremost I want to say CONGRATULATIONS to every single actor on our team including those who cheered us on from home. We could not have done this without all of you! Second, to the performers, I will forever cherish seeing every single one of you shine this weekend in your own individual way. It was a joy getting to see you all thrive in your element. Whether it was performing in front of a table of judges, or an entire restaurant a cappella, you all were phenomenal and it was an honor being able to witness your shine.

I wanted to share a recap of our weekend as a reminder for those who were there; while also providing a “fly-on-the-wall” peak for those who had us in their thoughts at home.

Day One: Friday, February 9th

We caravanned to Sacramento full of excitement around 1:30pm! When we arrived at the convention center, we were able to check in and get our Yellow Pod T Shirts and find our favorite meet up spot outside in the courtyard. At 4:00pm we headed into our rehearsal space and ran through our 15 minute performance. After, we battled the traffic of the Sacramento Kings game and checked into our hotel and dropped off our stuff before exploring the mall walking distance to our hotel for dinner. Due to the heavy traffic from the game, and in good-ol TEA fashion, we decided to walk to the UC Davis Health Pavilion for the Welcome Performance. The best part of the night was noticing other groups having what they referred to as “spirit sticks” which guided their group through the streets of Sacramento and all through the convention center (a good way to keep everyone together and have something to follow through the crowds). So, in our TEA spirit, Anne found a Palm Tree Branch in the road on our walk back to the hotel, which we named “Maddy Gascar” and it became our “Spirit Stick” for the Weekend. Maddy Gascar was so popular, we had multiple other groups and JTF employees taking photos of it (especially after we wrapped a JTF bracelet around the branches)!

Day Two: Saturday, February 10th

The group woke up bright and early to meet for breakfast downstairs at the hotel. We needed to be at the convention center by 8:00am for our rehearsal prior to our performance in front of the judges. We had a quick rehearsal and then promptly at 9:00am we were ushered into the conference room and performed for our Yellow Pod (including 5 other schools and their families) and three judges. After our performance (and while Ms. Beth wiped the tears of pride from her eyes), the judges spent 15 minutes working with our performers providing amazing positive feedback for us. We were then ushered into a private room with a mediator who helped guide us into appreciations along with a cooldown/debrief of the experience we just had. After a quick snack and photo opportunity, we popped back into the Yellow Pod and got to watch 3 other schools perform while hearing feedback of their performances feedback from the judges. We got to see Foothill Christian School from Glendora, CA perform “Newsies, JR”, The Riviera Ridge School from Santa Barbara, CA perform “Beauty and the Beast, JR” and BAMTheater from Hinsdale, IL perform “Seussical, JR”.

After Subway sandwiches in a nearby park, we then had the chance to watch “Direct from Broadway”. This performance showcases professional composers and lyricists showcasing the many layers and professions that can be found in the performing arts (not just acting on stage). We watched conversations and performances from Rob Rokicki, the composer and lyricist of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” Listened to Zina Goldrich the composer of “Junie B. Jones The Musical” and “Dear Edwina.” Watched Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, composers and songwriters of “Between the Lines” and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” Finally, we heard from Daniel Mertzlufft and Jacob Ryan Smith, composers of “In My Head” and “Grumpy Monkey”. Upon our return our actors participated in an Acting Workshop and then a Dance Workshop. At the same time, our Tech track had the opportunity to take classes in costuming and makeup (a few of them came back with “concerning” bruises on their arms…. or was it makeup!?). We eventually reconvened as a group before pizza dinner in our favorite spot in the courtyard of the convention center. I was even able to convince those in the dance workshop to perform the dance they learned for us :). With a bit of extra time, we decided to go for a walk to get some frozen yogurt.

That evening was the New Works Showcase which featured performances from pre-selected groups to premiere brand-new titles of shows being released into MTI’s (or Music Theater International) Broadway Junior and One-Act Edition catalog. We saw performances of “Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School”, JR, “Alice in Wonderland”, JR, “Between the Lines”, JR, “Hans Christian Andersen”, JR, and “Beetlejuice”, JR. A quick car ride later, and we were all fast asleep and rebooting for another full day.

Day Three: Sunday, February 11th

The majority of our group was able to sleep in a bit, but myself and our Tech team; Cruz, Hazel, Pax and Hope, headed to the convention center bright and early for the Tech Olympics. They competed against other school tech teams in an obstacle course of skill. When I say we were so close, I am not exaggerating. For our first time, especially going in with no expectations, our team was so impressive. My group of 5 had some time so we enjoyed the sunshine and played Phase 10 while enjoying some yummy Starbucks until we met up with the rest of the group at the Pavillion for “Growing Up Broadway”. This was a super fun conversation with multiple performers who discussed their experience in performing arts, the journey they took to get to where they are now, and their advice for young aspiring performers/songwriters/directors, etc…

The group then had more workshops including a sewing/mic tech workshop, and a Music Workshop. We also celebrated our two chosen All-Stars, Robby and Kennedy, who were selected from our group for a special performance at the Award Ceremony. During this time, Robby and Kennedy learned their dance number…. secretly Emily and I were in another room learning a faculty dance that we got to surprise the group with later in the day.

After lunch at the park, we headed back to the Pavillion for one of my favorite shows “There’s a Place for Us.” This show brings together and celebrates diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. We had the opportunity to hear a conversation of the team behind Deaf West and the introduction of a brand new musical that brings in actors hard of hearing, deaf, and hearing with a never before seen method of immersing the audience into the experience of being deaf. For someone who once had a dream of being a Sign Language Interpreter, I was enthralled! There were several other incredible performances that were truly inspiring. I wish I had written all of the names and songs we heard!

Immediately following that show was the Awards Ceremony where we took home TWO AWARDS! The videos say everything I could possibly try and put into words. To say the least, our group experienced an abundance of emotions. It was truly a spectacular moment. Plus we got to watch other schools perform for Outstanding Performances, watch Ms. Emily and I attempt to remember choreography we learned a few hours prior, Kennedy and Robby dance in the aisles, and our team and Hope win incredible trophies. What a whirlwind of feelings those moments were. I still don’t have my full voice back from screaming and crying so much! To summarize, we took home a trophy in “Excellence in Acting” and Hope won the “Inspiration Award” for her leadership and commitment to our younger actors on our team. Congratulations to ALL OF YOU!

With the excitement of our wins we walked to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory where we ran into two of our Yellow Pod teams! In true musical theater fashion, we all performed for each other in the restaurant, with no musical accompaniment to the roaring sound of applause from families, fellow performers and servers! What a thrill that was!

Our amazing weekend came to a close at the final concert by Andrew Barth Feldman from the new movie “No Hard Feelings”, “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway, and “Ratatouille: the TikTok Musical”. He performed some of his favorite theater songs and a few of his own. It was a fabulous concert and a fantastic way to close out the long weekend before driving back home.

"Thank you to everyone for making this experience so special and giving your child this opportunity to experience and explore the world of Performing Arts with over 2,000 students from all over the world. It was a weekend I will never forget!"