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Local Performers Start Teens 4 Theater

Four students introduce the joy of musical theater to small children through song, dance and games

Talking with Jenna, Rachel, Alexa and Jennifer— the four girls who make up the new nonprofit performance group Teens 4 Theater— it’s hard to believe that this is a group of one 14-year-old and three 13-year-olds, respectively. These young ladies present themselves with the self-assurance and poise of older teens, yet somehow remain perfectly warm and genuine, without an ounce of pretension. They could just be unusually mature for their age, but according to the girls, it’s their shared interest in theater that gives them confidence, something they are working to share with younger children.

The group, who met performing together at Cultural Arts Playhouse (CAP) in Plainview, just performed their first two routines for preschoolers at two Imagine Early Learning Center locations, Islip and Holtsville. The group got its start when Jenna and Rachel’s mother, Dale Goerke (also an employee of Imagine Learning Center) suggested that the girls perform for the preschoolers in August, which is National Music Month for preschools.

“She asked us if we would perform for all the preschool kids, and it slowly evolved into Teens 4 Theater,” said Jenna.

The Goerke sisters asked their friends from CAP, Alexa and Jennifer, if they would like to participate, and soon they were preparing a program of musical theater songs, medleys and a dance number to perform together. When performing, they also play Freeze Dance with the children to get them involved, and encourage the children to join them in singing a round of Do Re Mi. So far the group has only performed at Imagine, but they are currently making arrangements to perform at a local dance studio, and hopefully more venues as word gets around.

The idea behind the program is to help spark a love of theater in young children, which has made a huge difference in all of their lives.

“I think the main goal for me would be to get younger kids involved in musical theater and become more confident, because theater does bring on your confidence,” said Rachel.

Jennifer agreed. “Thanks to theater, I’m a huge chatterbox, and loud…[and] I used to never talk at all,” she said with a smile.

The girls all started performing at around the same age, 6 or 7.  POB residents Jenna, Rachel and Jennifer were all naturally drawn to their local theater program, while Wantagh-resident Alexa tried another program before winding up at CAP. In addition to performing together at the playhouse, the girls also perform in their school plays; the Goerke sisters have performed at John W. Engeman theater in Northport as well. All cite their favorite performance as the CAP production of Les Misérables that they all starred in together, emphasizing the family-like atmosphere at the Plainview playhouse.

Of course, all that rehearsing can make it difficult to find time for homework. While the girls said they’d love to perform on a big stage someday, perhaps even Broadway, they all realize the importance of academics.

“I think if anything, schoolwork comes first because you always have that to rely on if theater doesn’t work out. But, theater is really important to all of us….you have to find that balance,” said Jennifer.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big: some of their dream roles they’d like to play someday include Maria from West Side Story and Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

While Teens 4 Theater wasn’t conceived as an anti-bullying program, the girls all agreed that introducing kids to theater could have that effect, commenting that they’ve all become more inclined to speak their minds and stand up for themselves since they started performing. Jenna, the oldest of the four, said she already uses theater as a kind of anger-management at times.

“When I’m on the stage, I can just take all that emotion that I get from outside, and just put it into my theater,” she said. Jenna went on to say that channeling her emotions via performing is a win/win situation: she feels better afterwards, and her performance is stronger for it. It’s something that kids who are going through tough times at home or at school could definitely benefit from, she noted.

 “The thing is, if kids get involved in theater—not saying that they have to—but those that do get involved, those that were shy tend to grow confidence, and they know how to stand up if someone is bullying them,” added Jennifer.

The future is still uncharted for Teens 4 Theater: the group plans to do more performances, but it remains to be seen how much the girls will be able to spare between schoolwork and their other theater commitments once the school year starts, something of particular concern to Jenna since this will be her first year at POB-JFK High School. As eighth-graders with seniority, the other girls are excited about the possibility of landing some fun roles in this year’s middle school plays as well. Still, it’s clear that inspiring younger kids to take the stage means a lot to all of them.

“If possible, I think continuing Teens 4 Theater would be a great idea, because it’s such a great opportunity for us and the little kids,” said Alexa.