“How does one woman serve nine county schools?” asked Freddie Gershon, CEO and owner of Musical Theatre International (MTI), one of the largest and oldest licensing companies of musical theatre in the world.
Shirlee Idzakovich’s work does seem very demanding, but can be explained in one word: superhero.
The question was raised concerning local parent and volunteer, Idzakovich. However, if you ask Idzakovich herself, she will tell you something a little different than the superhero theory.
“We are actually catering to children from twelve different schools now,” said Idzakovich. “So, this is something that would be very difficult to do alone. Our group is so special. I rely on Becky Lovins and Susan Foster, and really have to trust them on what they do best. If I didn’t have Susan and Becky working with me with the Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre, not only would it not be the same, it would be boring. I have really come to respect all they bring to the group and how much I learn from them.”
Idzakovich, board member and costumer of Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre (PACT), has been getting all of this attention lately due to her recent win for the theatre. Idzakovich was one of eight educators from across the country selected for the fourth annual “The Freddie G Broadway Experience.” Produced by New York’s iTheatrics and Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars, the Junior Theater Festival celebrates young people and the transformative power of musical theater; this year’s festival brought together 4,000 students and teachers representing 82 groups from 23 states.
“The Freddie G Broadway Experience” educators will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York City in summer, 2012, to collaborate with each other and work one-on-one with Broadway greats. The event is sponsored by MTI’s Freddie (“G”) Gershon and his wife Myrna Gershon and is a thank you for all that teachers do to introduce the next generation to Broadway and musical theater. Teachers from across the country applied for the experience and based on their applications eight were selected. Not to mention, PACT will also receive a $5,000 dollar reward to use however they see fit.
“The Freddie G Broadway Experience” includes master classes with some of Broadway’s leading choreographers, directors, producers, actors and designers. The weekend is filled with special receptions and dinners, teacher workshops, backstage tours, world-class Broadway entertainment and the chance for educators to share their stories and experiences in the heart of the big apple.
Idzakovich has been involved in theatre for many years. She is a dedicated stage-mom and caring adult volunteer. Idzakovich began her career and hobby in sewing when she was young, being a competitive baton twirler, she ended up making most of her costumes. Idzakovich carried the talent with her into adulthood and began making costumes for community theatre. She has had order requests sent to her ranging from individual dresses to the feat of costuming an entire show. These costume orders would be enough to drive a person mad, but it is what Idzakovich loves doing.
“I love working with costumes,” Idzakovich said. “I do it because it is truly a joy to me. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Working with the kids is just a wonderful added bonus.”
Idzakovich became heavily involved in local theatre when the eldest of her three daughters and now New York actress, Macy Idzakovich, appeared in “Annie” as the red-headed orphan herself. That was 14 years ago for Idzakovich, and has since been involved with theatre companies all over the tri-state area.
Theatres from all over the country were eligible to apply for the “The Freddie G Broadway Experience Award”. To qualify for the award, the applicant must be nominated through their theatre, have proper credentials, and turn in recommendation letters to be reviewed by the Freddy G board.
“I honestly think that my recommendation letters were better than anyone else that applied,” Idzakovich said. “I decided to turn in recommendation letter written by the children. I am their costumer. I work with them. I was told it was very clever. I wasn’t meaning to be clever about my decision. I could have turned in letters written by the parents, but in the end the kids are the ones that come up to me crying if there aren’t enough ruffles on their dresses, or their costume is too small, or they don’t like it. I am at their beck and call, so I went ahead and let them write my recommendations.
Dylan Holt, 13, of Ironton, and Ebbie Potts, 8, of Portsmouth, were selected to write Idzakovich’s letters. Holt turned in a professionally typed letter and Potts turned in a handwritten piece in her own words.
“I chose one younger kid and an older,” Idzakovich said. “I chose two of the kids that I knew would give an honest opinion of me.”
Below is a transcribed exact copy of Potts’s handwritten letter. The letter was written in pencil, with impressively legible handwriting, and without the help of her parents. The below letter is a pure and from-the-source representation of Idzakovich’s relationship with the students and the impact she is leaving on their lives:
“My name is Ebbie Faith Mei Potts. I just turned 8 years old. I’m writing to you to tell you about my friend Shirlee Idzakovich. I met Shirlee 3 years ago and the first thing I learned is that Shirlee is very sweet. She is kind of a cheer leader for all of us kids in the shows. Shirlee is in charge of making our costumes for our shows. She has made me a cupcake to the mayors wife of who ville, a monkey in jungle book and a Watani girl in Music Man. Shirlee doesn’t just make costumes she also teaches us how to sew and make our own costumes. She even lets us make costumes for our dolls. Shirlee is so funny she makes us crack up and makes rehearsals alot more fun. She plays games with us and works with coreography for pre-shows. I love to hear stories and see pictures of her puppies! She loves animals very much. Shirlee is so cool and really makes me feel like we are all family.”
Freddie Gershon had a life full of interesting careers before he acquired and became Chairman and CEO of MTI in the late 80s. MTI was founded in 1942 by writer Frank Loesser, but the junior theatre shows did not start until Gershon took over. Gershon was afraid that an entire generation was missing out on the music he grew up on and the action of live theatre, so, in 1994, he pioneered the Broadway Junior Collection, which he won a Tony award for in 2012.
All of MTI’s junior company shows are tested for a couple years before the right become available. The stories are shortened to better suit the attention span of children, the ranges are decreased to make the music possible for the students, and parts are broken up so more kids get to have a part in the show. Gershon has designed the a formula for children’s theatre and has changed the way kids see the classical musicals he loves so much. Since 1994, over 70,000 separate productions have taken place in America, involving 4,000,000 children.
Being so passionate about theatre and also being a major philanthropist, Gershon has a general idea of who he wants to reap the benefits of “The Freddie G Broadway Experience.”
“Someone will come up to you one day and ask, ‘Did any teacher ever change your life for the better?’, ‘Did any teacher become an inspiration to you?’, ‘Did any teacher change the course you were on?’, ‘Did any teacher recognize something in you that no one recognized before?‘“said Gershon. “These are the things that are a part of the award that Mrs. Gershon and I present.”
Gershon said that he doesn’t send mission statements about who to select for the awards, but his concern is that the board select teachers that have something more than just a tenure.
“From just about everyone that I’ve met, they begin to look back and appreciate these turning points in their lives,” Gershon explained. “So, I am looking for these teachers that have passion, teachers who have insight into their students and see more than just a lump in their class.”