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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2019 1 year ago

Confidence coaches building character

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The women behind Young Star Musical Theatre hope to build confidence among their students through the performing arts.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

Lexy Shepherd has been doing musical theater practically her whole life, but she later learned that she preferred the behind-the-scenes work over being center stage.

“I grew up in my mom’s (theater) program,” Lexy said. “I was at every rehearsal, and I worked with my mom every day since I was 5 (years old).”

Shmaine and Lexy Shepherd are the mother-daughter duo who run Young Star Musical Theatre in Winter Garden.

Today, Lexy, 23, runs Young Star Musical Theatre with her mother, Shmaine Shepherd. The two Horizon West residents recently honored the theater’s one-year anniversary on July 23. YSMT is an after-school, theater-arts training program for students ages 6 to 18. The program is open to students of all skill levels, as no prior theater experience is required to join. Students meet twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays at the Right Combination Dance Studio.

“From August through December, (our students) learn a show, and we pick a show basically around our kids based on what we think they’ll enjoy (and) what can showcase them all,” Lexy said. “We don’t want to do shows that have limited parts because we like to make sure that all the kids are always having fun and always learning something. They learn a show in four or five months in the fall, and we usually put it up right before Christmas break.”

Although YSMT recently had its one-year anniversary locally, the program has been around for much longer than that. YSMT was created by Lexy’s grandmother, Barbara Shepherd, in the 1980s in Los Angeles. Barbara created YSMT to enrich the lives of children and families through the magic of theater. In 2001, Shmaine took YSMT to Prescott, Arizona, and grew the program from 11 children to more than 100 within two years. In keeping up with the family business, Lexy continues her grandmother’s mission of enriching the lives of children through YSMT today, but here in Central Florida.

“A lot of my kids say that they never feel left out (and) they never feel like they’re not welcome,” Lexy said. “That’s really important because you don’t think of things like that until a kid tells you. My mom always says that we’re ‘confidence coaches’ because parents will come up to us and say, ‘Oh, my kid is so shy. They don’t raise their hand in school. They don’t have very many friends. They’re so shy, always.’ And then they’re in our group and I could not tell you who is shy because they’re not shy. They’re confident. They’re strong. … It’s just so rewarding to hear when they step out the door that, in the real world, they are confident and strong and don’t care about what people think about them.”

The YSMT students are from all over West Orange County, but most come from Winter Garden and Windermere. When the program started locally, there were 12 students who signed up for its first summer camp last year. That number grew to 27 for YSMT’s first production, “Seussical the Musical,” in August 2018, and grew again to 43 students for its second production in January. Lexy hopes that those numbers continue to grow.

“I have kids from all over,” Shepherd said. “I have kids mostly from Winter Garden (and) Windermere. I have kids from Dr. Phillips. I have kids who live by the airport. … I have kids from Clermont, but (they’re) mostly from this side of town.”

As YSMT gears up for its upcoming show season, Shepherd is already planning out what’s next for the program. She’s working toward making YSMT into a nonprofit organization, and she’s hoping to have her own facility for YSMT in the near future. Eventually, she hopes to have another branch of YSMT closer to the east side of Orange County, like Winter Park.

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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