By Bonnie Berger
Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theatre is hosting Waco’s Got Talent, a communitywide event showcasing local talent through Saturday.
The show, centered on celebrating up-and-coming performers, has an admission fee of $6.
“I needed an event that would get the community invested and get a pool of talent that we could call on for future shows and events,” said Jubilee Theatre director Stephen Walker-Webb. “What better way to do this than to open up a citywide talent search?”
Seventeen acts must compete over three days to win a $500 first place cash prize.
There is a heavy emphasis on audience participation, as spectators will vote their favorite acts to advance through the competition.
“The audience has an invested interest to return each night to see if the people they voted for will advance to the next round,” Walker-Webb said.
Forty-eight groups auditioned for a chance to perform at the event in newly renovated theater. Through much discussion and compromise, the committee chose 17 groups to perform, Walker-Webb said.
“I’ve heard many people say ‘We just want the opportunity to perform or help the community,’” Walker-Webb said. “There isn’t a lot of competitive spirit yet. Right now everyone is just excited about the space and what the theater can do for this community.”
Volunteers and committee members helped prepare for the event by donating their time to coordinate the show. They also designed and produced fliers and posters publicizing the event.
“It was a lot of guerilla work on the ground,” Walker-Webb said. “There was a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. … I went all over the city handing out fliers. But there’s been an overwhelming response.”
Formerly a participant in Mission Waco’s youth program, Walker-Webb returned to work with the theater after finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas, Mission Waco co-founder Jimmy Dorrell said.
“In his year in between [returning to graduate school], we told him to make this your Apollo Theater,” Dorrell said. “Come back to Waco and reinvest in everything you grew up in. [Walker-Webb] is the glue around this thing. … He really made it happen.”
Aside from coordinating events and future performances, Walker-Webb volunteers every Wednesday and Thursday to use theater therapy with inner-city youth.
“They come in and a lot of kids are afraid to process the things they’re experiencing,” he said. “If I can give you a character, a costume or a mask, then you can out these intense feelings. It gives you the courage to confront them in your own life.”
Theatrically addressing deep-rooted personal issues gives kids confidence and access to those emotions, he said.
“With theater therapy, it’s a direct way of giving back,” he said. “I can look at the children and see where I was, see my hopes and my dreams.”
His investments encompass more than psychological aspects, as he teaches his classes practical skills, like the importance of positive self-representation and confidence.
“I teach them how to be articulate and to speak well, to sell themselves,” he said. “Performance is all about presentation. … At the same time, I try to make it fun and theatrical.”
Bringing new visions to the theater, Walker-Webb said he aspires to give the theater back to the community.
“I want the audience to have a great time and become invested in their theater so they’ll come back for future shows,” he said. “I want them to know that when you purchase a ticket, it’s not just a show. It’s investing in the community.”
Committee members and volunteers echo Walker-Webb’s sentiments and anticipate a positive outcome.
“We don’t have a lot of events where the community can get involved with each other,” said Waco’s Got Talent committee member Ramad Carter. “Hopefully it will make people realize we can come together and really enjoy each other. This is a seed that is planted and I hope a lot more trees come from it.”
For more information, contact the Jubilee Theater at 254-753-4900.