Ryah Nixon (left), Jessica Skerritt and Sarah Davis rehearse in Broadway Bound's vocal studio for the upcoming performance of "Quilters." Now in its ninth season, Fremont's Broadway Bound, a nonprofit group educating youths in musical theater, serves about 250 to 300 students from about 50 different schools per show. Students come from as far as Issaquah and Shoreline.
One of Broadway Bound's missions is to reach out into the community. About 150 volunteers participate on each production, mentioned production coordinator Susan Wynstra.
"By the time they get through with our program, the payoff is the performance," founder Jim Nixon said.
Broadway Bound's first year was so successful that participants in the after-school program were invited by former Seattle Public Schools Superintendent John Stanford to sing for Gov. Gary Locke in Olympia.
For last year's production of "The Wiz," students performed at ACT Theatre, and about 8,000 tickets were sold, he said: "You can't get that experience anywhere else."
'A life-changing experience'
Each production is a four-month process, from auditions to the final performance. The participants maintain discipline and focus. The key to their success, Nixon said, is that the instructors start out with high expectations.
"Everybody's accountable," he said. "It's a life-changing experience for these kids."
There is an emphasis on teamwork and professionalism in the classes. Kids are reminded that cuteness will only get them so far.
"'Cute' in Broadway Bound is a four-letter word," Nixon said, adding that the school's slogan is "We're not 'cute.' We're professional."
Programs are frequently added, such as dinner theater and stand-up comedy.
Broadway Bound also makes a movie every summer.
"It so exceeds [the parents'] expectations that they just glow," Nixon said.
Most families hear about the school through word-of-mouth.
"We're the best-kept secret in Fremont - that's what we've always said," he said. "We've been blessed with a strong following and a good reputation."
Due to the group's overwhelming popularity, Nixon hopes to expand to a larger venue than its current location in the basement of the Fremont Community Church.
"We're currently maxed out here," Nixon said. "Nobody is turned away at Broadway Bound."
The Fremont location suffered several robberies in December, also encouraging Broadway Bound to consider moving. Nixon, however, remains optimistic.
"I would always like to maintain a presence here," he said. "I literally grew up with my kids in this building."
Parent Jim Nixon started Broadway Bound as an after-school program at his daughter's school, B.F. Day Elementary School in Fremont.
"I was probably the first Broadway Bound kid," said Ryah, who started participating in the program at age 8. "Broadway Bound has provided me with so many skills that are imperative in theater."
She once lived with her family in Hollywood, where her father spent seven years doing film and television. He appeared on a television program called "Totally Hidden Video" for four seasons and "Candid Camera" for two seasons.
The elder Nixon also performed in more than 100 shows in New York, at such venues as Circle in the Square.
After working on a film in Eastern Europe for four months, Nixon decided to put his career aside to spend more time with his two kids, who were 5 and 7 at the time.
"I wasn't going to miss my kids' childhood," Nixon said.
In 1995, shortly after the Nixon's home was destroyed in an earthquake, the family moved to Fremont.
"I feel very fortunate to live in Seattle, where there's such a strong and lively theater community," said Ryah, who is a graduating Roosevelt High School senior.
She plans to attend college on the East Coast, study musical theater and eventually live in New York.
Ryah will perform a variety of roles in Broadway Bound's upcoming production of "Quilters." Each cast member in "Quilters" plays at least five different characters.
The all-female cast of seven ranges in age from 16 to 20.
"It's just been a group effort the whole time," she said. "I just love all of these girls that I'm in the show with."
The musical is organized into different pieces that tell the life of a woman quilter in the early 1800s.
"It's such a great experience because it's all about women," Ryah said. "I've learned so much from it."
"Quilters," performed by the organization's graduating class, runs Jan. 19 through 23.
"Snoopy," performed by Broadway Bound's younger actors, runs Friday, Jan. 7, through 30.
Both shows will take place at the Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N. Call 526-5437 for more information.
Broadway Bound's next show is "Li'l Abner."
Broadway Bound is located in Fremont at 717 N. 36th St. The cost is $140 per month per student, and scholarships are available.