Junior Theater Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary


Eager theater-loving kids cheer excitedly during Junior Theatre Festival’s 20th anniversary concert. They celebrate their love of musical theater by singing and dancing in the audience.

Junior Theater Festival, also known as JTF, is an annual celebration for musical theater-loving kids that began back in 2003. Since the first festival was held in Atlanta, Georgia, its growing popularity has allowed it to expand to multiple other locations including Sacramento, California, and even international locations like Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

During JTF, musical-theater troupes from all over the world each perform a 15-minute snippet of a Broadway Junior Show. Industry professionals then judge their pieces, and by the end of the weekend, they receive an award. The catch: they’re not allowed to use any props or costumes. Aside from the competition portion, young actors also participate in acting, dancing and singing workshops taught by experienced performers. Overall, this weekend-long event provides an amazing opportunity for aspiring Broadway legends.

In January 2023, JTF held its 20th consecutive Atlanta festival with a boatload of fun activities and exciting celebrity guests. Passionate theater lovers got to see performances by the original cast of “Mean Girls the Musical,” Joe Serafani and Frankie Rodriguez from Disney+’s “High School Musical the Musical the Series” and JTF natives Timothy McDonald and Luca Padovan. Along with this, they were able to get the first look at some upcoming Broadway Junior shows soon to be licensable.  

Overall, this weekend-long event provides an amazing opportunity for aspiring Broadway legends.

I was lucky enough to attend this festival, and I can tell you, it was breathtaking how the arena was set up and decorated. The lights and music were spectacular and I was on my feet during every number. It was also incredibly inspiring to meet professionals and hear stories of their careers. The entire experience was so magical, it got me thinking about how much has changed since the first festival.

In 2003 when the first Junior Theatre Festival was held, 650 people attended. Though that number’s nothing to scoff at, it’s a clear distinction between the 4,000 people who attended in 2014 and the 6,500 people who attended in 2023. The festival was able to grow because of the loyal sponsors it has acquired throughout the years including Disney Musicals, MTI and Playbill.

JTF West 2023 took place from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19 in Sacramento, California. The groups participating got to see special guests and snippets of new musicals, got to partake in workshops and got awarded for their hard work putting together their adjudication. This is an amazingly inspiring experience for everyone involved. JTF, in all of its forms, exemplifies why so many people love musical theater. It shows theater is not all about the costumes, props, set pieces or lighting. It’s just about having fun and making memories. Here’s to another 20 years of jazz hands.