Tuesday, August 2, 2016


On a breezy August afternoon, as the "Vocalist" and "Vocalist Junior" competition are headed into their final weeks for summer 2016, Media Theatre's Artistic Director Jesse Cline and professional actress Susan Wefel, who emcees the "Junior" event each week, were chatting about the importance and vitality of the contest.

The Media Theatre has been producing the two summer singing contests for a decade, having been created by Cline. Once called "Delco Idol", they are now "The Vocalist" and are sponsored by Iron Workers Bank. The Wednesday night "Vocalist" and Sunday evening "Vocalist Junior" give young performers and singers an opportunity to highlight their skills in front of a large live audience each week, as they hone their craft. For four weeks, no one is eliminated, until the Semi-Finals and the Finals take place in August. 
Professional actress Susan Wefel, who has appeared on The Media Theatre stage frequently,
and the theatre's Artistic Director Jesse Cline.
"Wow, we are headed into the final eliminations," said Wefel, who added, "For four weeks it was like Boot Camp and these talented kids were able to sing and enjoy themselves in front of the audience. Now, with the finals only two weeks away, it must be a bit unnerving for them."

"Sure, there is pressure," Cline said. "However, even though that might affect the contestants it also forces them to do the work that needs to be done."

"True, it teaches them that, as in life, everyone is not always a winner or the person who receives the most attention, no matter how hard they try," Wefel explained. "Some people even as adults feel that if they are not the main focus, then they don't want to do this or that--but that's not the right attitude to have."

Cline added his perspective, having maintained auditions for the Broadway Series at the Media Theatre for over 20 years. "It's similar to auditioning," he said. "Everything may go well for the performer, for the actor or the singer, but they still won't get the part they hope for. That's a great lesson to learn. There are many reasons why, such as choosing the material that suits you the most, and you could drive yourself insane trying to analyze it. But only one person ends up getting the role, for whatever reason."

He is very happy to have Susan Wefel at the helm for "Vocalist Junior" as the emcee. "She's perfect for it. Our audiences here recognize her for her great work in our shows such as "Billy Elliot", "The Wizard of OZ", "Les Miserables", and "To Kill A Mockingbird". She's worked with many of our students in those shows, and the parents and audiences feel comfortable with her. She adds a welcoming atmosphere to the competition."

Susan will be back on The Media Theatre stage in January of 2017 as The Nurse in "Romeo and Juliet". "I'm so excited about that!" she exclaimed. "You know, I love the family atmosphere here at Media. It's contagious. Everyone gets their moment to shine."

Of the "Vocalist" and its "Junior" counterpart, Cline said, "We try to move the summer event away from a competitive spirit and more toward a spirit of support and inclusion. The idea is to support each other."

To that end, Cline explained he notices a lot of families who, after being eliminated from either contest, come back to watch the Finals. "They come back after not making it into the Final Round to watch and cheer on their friends in the final week. It's nice to see."

He stated that Susan Wefel would be back again next summer, to emcee the "Junior" contest again. "Oh, I love that!" she said. "I love saying "Welcome to the Media Theatre, saying those magic words at the start of each show. And we always mention the support that the theatre needs."

Cline and Wefel both agree that it's eventually not about who wins--although one singer does in each competition annually--but it's about doing the best they can do. "It's more important to say to yourself as a young performer that you're going to do the best you can, no matter what happens. That's how you really win."

"That is true," Cline added. "With all the types of music these young people sing each week, from folk and country to pop and Broadway, it raises their confidence level and their self-awareness, helping them to find out what works for them and what doesn't work so well. Watching it over the years, you can really see a difference in some of them, and see them create their own brand of performance. Many of them, however, have their eyes on Broadway, even at a very young age."

Several of The Media Theatre's "Vocalist" and "Junior" finalists (not necessarily the top winners) have gone on to Broadway, as a matter of fact. Ava Briglia, who is 10 years old and is from Media, is currently playing the title role in "Matilda", the same show her sister was in two years ago. Both were top five contestants at Media. 

What with the summer camp having a larger enrollment this year than ever before, and the "Vocalist" still going strong, Cline said, "Theatres should just do what they are best at doing. We are a music theatre, so that is what we focus on. The music. The singers. It's encouraging not only to us, but to the students and the families involved. That's how you win. Focus on what you do best."

For tickets to "The Vocalist" which is on Wednesday nights through August 10, or "Vocalist Junior" which is on Sunday nights through August 14, call The Media Theatre at 610-891-0100 or visit mediatheatre.org

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