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Young at art

In our youth-obsessed culture, it's refreshing to find young people engaged in pursuits that are worthy of our adulation.

You don't have to look very far to find them in the Rogue Valley. Just stop by and see a performance by any of the area's middle and high school theater arts departments.

Then there's Planned Parenthood's Teen Theater, Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts, Shoestring Productions, Camelot Theatre's Conservatory, Oregon Stage Works' Ashland Children's Theatre and (Working Title) Acting Troupe — to mention a few.

Or sit in on Oregon Shakespeare Festivals educational outreach programs to schools.

And how about the young people who are sharing the stage with adults in performances at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "The Music Man," or those who were featured in Oregon Stage Works' "To Kill a Mockingbird," or Camelot Theatre's "I Remember Mama?"

Next week, Ashland New Plays Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival are hosting an evening featuring young playwrights, actors and stage technicians they have mentored.

It's both an acknowledgement of talent and a commitment to the future — a future that looks bright indeed for the next generation of outstanding actors and theater artists.

Most recently, "Once On This Island," a thoughtful award-winning Broadway musical came to life on the stage at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. It was staged by Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon, which has a habit of turning out first-class shows.

On stage were 52 young people singing, dancing and acting their way into our hearts.

Watching the show you were continually struck by the caliber of the performances.

We're not talking elementary-school pageant cute. In fact, the performances were so focused and unself-conscious that you quickly forgot that you were watching children. They never tried to act "grown up." They just played their parts, whatever age they were supposed to be, and you believed it — because they did.

One young man's brief solo earned rousing applause from an audience he had clearly blown away with vocal chops well beyond his years.

As in most Broadway musicals, there were a number of occasions where an actor had to sing or dance — or both — solo. The Craterian is a big space for anyone to fill all alone, but it must be particularly daunting when you are all of 11 years old, or even 13 or 15.

The young performers didn't seem to notice that. They stepped right up and did what they had been rehearsing for weeks, nailing their moment with considerable confidence and skill.

Again, as in most Broadway musicals, there were huge dance productions. All 52 of the performers pulled it off in style — and in synch. Try to get 52 people — any age — to do something together without some of them bumping into each other or checking out and just going through the motions.

Especially impressive were the artistic contributions of Cailin McCandless. Now a sophomore theater major at Northwestern University, McCandless has been choreographing shows in the Rogue Valley since she was 14.

McCandless' presence on stage as one of the main characters was electric. Her choreography and direction were especially impressive. So much so that CMTO's co-founder and director John Taylor handed over much of the directing responsibilities to her, in another acknowledgement of talent and a commitment to the future.

The Craterian and Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon made a wise decision to join forces in order to give the theater company a home within the city's premiere theater building.

The young people of Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon can now perform regularly on that stage under the tutelage of John and Rhonda Taylor and assisted by Craterian's artistic team and visiting production staff.

That sounds like a good combination. So does theater and young people.