Relani Gerami during one of the workshops
Gerami and the seven other teachers named best youth musical-theater educators in the country by Music Theatre International (MTI), a theatrical licensing agency, were honored by Broadway Welcomes America's Teachers at The First Freddie G. Theatre Experience in New York City.
Gerami's cast of twenty-three kids, all students at her own Bay Area Theatre and Voice Academy (BATAVA) wowed their way through a 15-minute segment of Alice in Wonderland at this year's Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. The January performance won them Outstanding Production and MTI surprised Gerami with the news that she had been chosen as one of their top eight national educators.
"We truly had no expectations," Gerami told Hair Balls, pointing out that not only was this their first time at the festival, they were competing with 50 other theater groups. "We didn't know if our jazz shoes would fly, or if the stage would be at all the size of our stage at home."
As it turned out, the dimensions of the stage were almost exactly the same as the one back home in League City. She shared they were "very lucky" with that stage.
However, Gerami is not at all modest about the hard work that prepared her kids to compete with the best in the country.
"Gosh, the kids worked so hard, and rehearsed so much; they really did hit every count." Her voice softened even more when she shared how impressed one of the judges was with the three- and four-part harmonies achieved by her choir of nine-to-sixteen-year-olds. "These kids, they weren't screaming. You could hear the discipline in their voices, the determination."
Determination along with leadership and communication skills is what Gerami strives to teach to her students along with musical theatre.
A vocal performance major from the University of Houston Gerami calls herself an educator at heart, enjoying doing everything she can so her kids go from timid and quiet to "holding their heads high and so confident, you can't make them shut up!"
Although the opening number of the teacher's Experience was a special Friday night cocktail reception, on the phone last week Gerami bubbled with the anticipation of learning from the Broadway Masters themselves what she's been doing right and what new lessons she could bring home to her students.
In e-mailed follow-up questions, she shared that the roundtable discussions led by the Masters on choreography, acting, directing, and musical styles were "very laid back and very personal" and that she "learned from them all."
"Them all" included multiple award-winning Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, A Chorus Line's Baayork Lee, and Jeff Calhoun, of Grey Gardens fame.
Gerami is excited by the feedback received at this sessions and appreciative of the industry insight shared by MTI's Chairman Freddie Gershon. "I have more knowledge on how the industry operates on that type of professional level," she said.
She shared that Saturday night the eight teachers celebrated big with what else? Mary Poppins and an "amazing" backstage tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre.
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But the best moment of the weekend?
"I really loved working with Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman. I was given a student I had never met and a song I didn't know. I had to music-direct this little girl on the vocals in front of the group and received feedback from these guys! It was awesome!"
Gerami founded BATAVA three and a half years ago with the support of some of her students' parents. "Thank God for people that believe in you. Thank God for being able to work and it be what I love to do."
Relana Gerami's expectations have shot as high as the harmonies of a choir of fourteen-year old boys.