ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Over the past four months, 18 students of Mrs. Z’s Performing Arts Studio have been hard at work rehearsing for their upcoming performance on a global stage. The group is made up of junior high-aged Abilene kids and their director, Camille Zimmerman – who says they’re bringing their A game for the show.

“It’s just – there’s magic with these. ‘The Abilene 18’ is what we call them,” said Zimmerman.

The competition will be stiff, The Abilene 18 are up against 103 of the best young troupes from around the world – an honor they’ve worked for tirelessly – at the 2023 Junior Theatre Festival.

“It’s really long days, like I don’t think I’ve had one day off,” said Wylie 8th grader Paisley Holt.

Wylie freshman Ashtyn Kershner told KTAB/KRBC, “It’s pretty nerve wracking for me, but I think she’s got us prepared.”

Ashtyn plays the role of “James” in their production comprised of selections from the musical James and the Giant Peach. It’s play they originally performed four years ago when Mrs. Z’s was just getting started.

“We started with James and the Giant Peach, and now we’re getting big with James and the Giant Peach… Like, it’s already been a part of us and now we get to level that up,” Ashtyn beamed.

The Abilene 18 are set to leave for Atlanta, Georgia Friday, January 13. In addition to performing, this theatre troupe will get to meet with actual Broadway performers and ask for advice and lessons. It’s an experience Zimmerman said they’ve earned more than once over.

“This is huge for Mrs. Z’s, and for these kids… I’ve been watching videos of other troupes that have gone to this competition, and I thought my kids can do exactly what they’re doing,” Zimmerman boasted.

No matter the outcome, Zimmerman said the experiences they have there will be reward enough for the time and passion they’ve invested. She said she hopes to see them continue their theatrical journeys long into the future.

Going to Atlanta is something Ashtyn and the other kids are not taking for granted, “I gotta, like, put my all into this, because this might be, like, a one-time chance for me.”

“Rehearsals can get tedious, but I told them I never want them to lose the joy of acting and performing,” Zimmerman added.