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Good Company Players welcomes 500th member to its Junior Company
Note: This article was written and submitted by Vonny Sturgeon
Nathan Gagliardi , a 12-year-old home-schooled seventh grader, has been selected as the 500th member of the famed Good Company Players Junior Company. Nathan, the son of Beth and Vincent Gagliardi (pronounced gill-ar-dee) sang "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" for his audition. He will make his first appearance on stage at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater as part of the "Little Women," pre-show March 19.
Nathan's older sister, Samantha started performing with the Juniors in 2008.
"I'm really excited to be involved," Nathan says. "I've had the bug ever since I've been watching Samantha perform and I wanted to get out there too."
Good Company Players Junior Company, which was started in 1978, is a talented group of young people, ages 8 through 16, cast at three open auditions yearly. Any youngster, regardless of training or experience may audition. The Junior Company performs in its own 15-minute pre-show before every main-stage performance at Roger Rocka's. Each auditioner is asked to sing a memorized song, bring sheet music in the correct key for the accompanist, and is briefly interviewed on stage.
"We teach them a dance number, test their ability to harmonize and look for focus and poise during the interview. Courtesy skills are are a big part of the audition," says Laurie Pessano, who been the director of the Junior Company program since 1982.
Some of these performer stay with the company for as many as seven years.
"Not only is it a huge commitment on the part of the performer, it's a huge commitment by the parents as well. Juniors usually perform in two consecutive pre-shows, which can number more than 80 performances, depending on the length of the show runs."
Add to that Saturday rehearsals, which are four to six hours long.
And since the group rehearses for six weeks before a pre-show opens, it is really a 5 1/2-month commitment. Performers must memorize everything--songs, dances, special choreography, and occasionally, lines. When a new song or step is introduced at rehearsal, the Juniors are expected to have it entirely memorized by the following Saturday.
"Whether they know it or not, the juniors are learning about everything valuable in life," says junior director Dan Pessano, "self control, discipline, listening skills and team work. We don't tolerate rudeness, tardiness or irresponsibility," he says.
And that rubs off.
"Our daughter Samantha has really grown through her experience with the juniors. Among many other things, it teaches young people responsibility and discipline and we are thrilled with the program," says Beth Gagliardi.
"This level of training builds self-confidence, and these young people learn quickly to work as a team. They become family," Pessano says.
He recalls an evening when a cast member wasn't picked up for parents after a pre-show. They had gone away on a weekend trip and asked the grandmother to bring the child home. Grandma forgot, or misunderstood, and never came.
"Now, this was before cell phone," Pessano says, "and no one could reach the family. I simply scooped her up and took her home for the weekend."
"One of our families has 8 kids, and 7 of the 8 performed in our Junior Company. What a commitment that was. We have learned a lot from our young performers," he says. "If children know you believe in them, they believe too. They may not get there on the first, second, or third try, but if you keep saying 'You can do it,' they can and do. Every time I work with kids I am reminded that there is hope in this world."
Many former Junior Company continue to have satisfying careers, locally and throughout the country, whether they have pursued professional performing or not.
Local teachers include, Kellerie Aldape (drama teacher at McLane High School), Richard Woods (music teacher at Roosevelt High School of the Arts) and Lara Ramalho Ragsdale (elementary school teacher). Working in creative arts, thought not performing, are: Leanna Sterios (orchestral conductor), Brian Shuster (cartoonist) and Shandon Youngclaus (photographer, who does actor's headshots).
Those pursing professional perforning careers include, Alicia O'Neill (opera singer), Yvonna Kopacz (model), Christopher Gorham (TV actor), Heidi Blickenstaff and And Chamberlain (both currently on Broadway), Sharon Leal and Audra McDonald.
And some performers now play key roles for GCP, including Lorraine Christiansen (Ben in "Little Women") and Sydney Mason (Dorthy in the upcoming "The Wiz.")