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‘Young Talent Big Dreams’ Attracts Top Performers

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  • Bella Calleja
Quadratic Four

Group Dance Winner Quadratic Four, featuring Tylah Dorsonne, 14, Shannon Millan, 13, Ariannah Wright, 15, and Azariah Wright, 13. All are students at Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts. (MarkaJames Photographer

Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, recently announced the winners of this year’s 2024 Young Talent Big Dreams (YTBD) competition. Now in its 14th year, the event has cemented itself as a lifeline for young artists seeking to showcase their abilities and receive professional feedback.

This year’s countywide talent competition drew more than 300 participants – ranging in age from 8 to 18 – over a period of weeks.

“A wonderful thing that I noticed this year is we had so many alumni returning, some competing in different categories or continuing to participate because they enjoyed it so much,” said Earl Maulding, Actors’ Playhouse director of theatre for young audiences, who leads YTBD. “The competition matured, meaning that the performers took a chance on themselves, and the judges provided feedback to help them grow. This growth opportunity was a supportive environment where young performers could quickly develop their skills.”

The “Young Talent Big Dreams” 2024 winners. (MarkAJames Photography)

One of the most enticing aspects of the competition is its range of categories, which include pop/rock/rap vocals, musical theater/jazz standards/classical vocals, dance, musical instrument, original spoken word, and original vocal and/or instrumental composition. Additionally, there were three group categories for dance, musical instruments/bands and vocal groups. This variety allows a broad spectrum of talent to shine.

Maulding explained that even though not every performer walked out a winner, Actors’ Playhouse provided experiences and mentorship for all the competition’s participants.

“We called the finalists to set up performance opportunities where they had to go somewhere they had never been before, for people they didn’t know,” said Maulding. “And they had to walk in as young professionals and take the stage no matter what the situation.”

Salandra Singleton, with her deeply personal original poem “Cause I’m A Woman,” captivated audiences and emerged as the winner for Individual Original Spoken Word. (MarkAJames Photography)

Salandra Singleton, a 17-year-old student at Miami Norland Senior High School and a member of the Viking Freedom Writers, won for Individual Original Spoken Word. Singleton captivated audiences with a performance of her deeply personal original poem, “Cause I’m A Woman.”

She shared that she explored in her piece “Things that women experience on a day-to-day basis, like not being valued in their relationship or being scrutinized because their clothes are too tight. It’s basically saying, even though I do this, or be this, or do what I’m told to, I can never get it right because I’m simply a woman.”

Singleton prepared for the competition by practicing in front of a mirror to build her confidence. Despite her stage fright, she managed to channel her emotions and deliver a powerful performance. Winning the competition left her feeling shocked and proud, as it validated her talent and hard work. She’s now motivated to pursue future opportunities in spoken word and to work toward becoming a published author.

Maulding praised Singleton’s ability to take her personal experiences and express them powerfully on stage, noting, “The fact that she was willing to stand on stage by herself and share her experiences in a strong, commanding, yet personal way set an unbelievable example.”

Harmoni Warren, a multi-instrumentalist known for her proficiency in the cello, impressed judges with her extraordinary touch and connection with her instrument, ultimately winning the Individual Musical Instrument category.(MarkAJames Photography)

Harmoni Warren, the 16-year-old winner of the Individual Musical Instrument category, is a multi-instrumentalist known for her proficiency in cello. While she preferers that instrument, she has played tuba and trumpet in various school bands, expanding her musical repertoire. Performances with esteemed ensembles like the K.U.M.C. Orchestra and Nu Deco N.X.T. Youth Ensemble have showcased her versatility and dedication to music.

Maulding expressed high expectations for her future.

“I expect to see that girl playing with the finest symphony orchestras anywhere in the world someday,” he said of Warren. “Her touch and connection with her instrument were extraordinary.”

Warren performed for the first time in the competition this year; to prepare she practiced extensively, focusing on the demanding cello piece she would perform at YTBD. Despite feeling anxious and scared backstage before she went on, she said once she was on stage she felt confident and at ease.

“It was a lot for me anxiety-wise. I was scared, but once I was on stage, I was good. It was smooth sailing from there,” she said.

Warren’s favorite part of the competition was watching all the other performances after she finished her own; she said she found it inspiring to witness the diverse talents of other young musicians. As for her future aspirations, she expressed a desire to become a music educator.

“I’ve been inspired by music teachers that I’ve had to be better not only in my musicianship, but in life in general,” she said. “I want to be that person for someone, that second home for someone the way that these teachers here at my school have been for me.”

Another act that received high praise was The Quadratic Four, winners of the Group Dance category. Its members – Tylah Dorsonne, 14, Ariannah Wright, 15, Azariah Wright, 13, and Shannon Millan, 13 – attend the Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts.

Formed during a student choreography month in their dance class, Quadratic Four chose Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as the centerpiece of their performance. What began as a choreography project soon blossomed into a bonding experience for the group.

Dorsonne emphasized the importance of chemistry among the group members, attributing much of their performance’s impact to their shared love of dance. Their choreography, fueled by their creative imagination, is a testament to their passion and dedication.

“When we heard a song, we automatically knew that we wanted to make a piece to it. And all of a sudden, we came up with choreography, and it just all came together,” she said.

At the competition, she and her fellow dancers impressed judges with their classical technique and strong unified performance. Indeed, Maulding highlighted their commitment to technique and style, saying, “They were classically trained, projecting their energy in a very classical style of dance. Their strong unison dancing made them stand out as a cohesive unit rather than individuals.”

Reflecting on their journey, Dorsonne acknowledged areas for improvement but remained excited about future competition opportunities. Her advice to aspiring artists was simple yet powerful: “Give your best and embrace the experience fully.”