Janke-Furman shines on stage, wins local performance competition

Theo Janke-Furman as Chip Tollentino in the April 2014 Mounds Park Academy production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” (submitted photo)
Theo Janke-Furman as Chip Tollentino in the April 2014 Mounds Park Academy production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” (submitted photo)

Cast as the Cowardly Lion in his school’s spring production of “The Wizard of Oz,” sophomore Theo Janke-Furman has proven he’s anything but timid on stage. The fidgety hand gestures and facial expressions that marked his audition, he says, were intentional. That was all part of getting into character.   

Outside of school hours, he’s been studying the art of performance at the MacPhail Center for Music, a Minnesota-based nonprofit dedicated to community enrichment through music education. His latest involvement in a singing and acting program at the center called “Prelude” has helped this young talent hone in on his sense of stage presence.

Training alongside 36 others in the Prelude program, Janke-Furman competed against his peers in the 2015 Mini-Mets Competition, which instructors modeled after the prestigious Met Auditions held by the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council every year. He, along with four other students, won the opportunity to record two songs at a professional recording studio on Jan. 31.

“From the moment Theo began to sing, the three judges sat back and put down their pencils. Theo has a beautiful sound, and wonderful technique,” says Prelude director Manon Gimlett. “He also fully commits to the presentation pieces of his songs, investing in telling the story.”

‘Only a tenth-grader’

For his Mini-Mets audition, Janke-Furman sang the Irish folk song “Down by the Salley Gardens” and “Where I Want to Be,” from the musical “Chess.” His voice teacher, Thaxter Cunio, encouraged him to select the latter number to showcase the power and range in his voice. His advice helped capture the attention of all three guest judges.  

“Theo’s a great kid with a passion for understanding vocal technique and he’s only a tenth-grader,” Cunio says, proud of Janke-Furman’s latest accomplishment. “[He’s] always prepared and ready to learn.”

“Usually the winners are seniors,” says Gimlett, also impressed with Janke-Furman’s ability to stand out, even amongst all the talented student performers who travel to Prelude practice sessions from 17 surrounding cities.

Burgeoning talent

Despite his comfort with being in the spotlight, Janke-Furman admits he wasn’t always raring to get on stage; he worked at it.

“When I was little, before I started performing, I was definitely a very shy person. I couldn’t talk in front of a large group of people,” he says. “[Now] I’m able to just have a clear mind when I’m performing.”

He grew up listening to his mother Anne playing the cello in a community orchestra and his mother Beth singing in choirs, and he and his sister both took piano lessons. His crash course on music theory and vocal technique, however, came from participating in the Minnesota Boy Choir for about seven years, prior to joining Prelude.

“He started singing when he was 11 months old, before he could talk,” says Anne, fondly recalling her son’s musical inclination. “He always used to sing when he was putting together Legos.”

Now, at age 15, Janke-Furman says he enjoys challenging himself in rehearsals. And many of his learned skills translate well into classroom activities like public speaking and memorization for exams. At school and at the MacPhail Center for Music, he’s participated in a number of musicals.

To keep building momentum, Janke-Furman commits to a half-hour voice lesson every Saturday morning with Cunio, followed by three hours of Prelude practice. He’s still not sure if he’ll pursue music in college, or professionally. But if his latest achievement is any indication, this investment has already begun showing signs of promise.

Acting while recording

On Jan. 31, Janke-Furman completed his first professional recording session at the Wild Sound Recording Studio in Minneapolis. Each winner worked with a sound engineer to record the two songs they performed during their audition, and will get a copy of their recording to submit with future college and scholarship applications.

“It’s a lot like performing, but without the pressure of an audience,” says Janke-Furman, reflecting on his studio session. “I had a fun time.”

Matthew Zimmerman, owner of the recording studio, has been donating recording time to winners of the Mini-Mets competition for the past eight years. His own children attended lessons at MacPhail and he’s a supporter of both the program and the transformative power of music.

“It’s really fun ... to see how the children react and how they can even change in a half hour, in a new realization of what they can do in their own craft,” he says.

Gimlet agrees that this opportunity to record teaches students something they simply can’t learn at rehearsal or on stage.

“They learn how extremely well prepared they have to be, and that the acting they do in audition must carry over into the recording,” she says. “We can hear the acting, the different colors of the emotion, in the recording, even if the visual cues are not there.”

To view a video clip of Theo Janke-Furman performing, select this link.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.


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