Youth talent showcased in New London performance

Denise Strong, left, and her twin sister, Desiree Strong, rehearse with fellow members of the Fitch High School Dance Team.
Denise Strong, left, and her twin sister, Desiree Strong, rehearse with fellow members of the Fitch High School Dance Team. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

After the New London Youth Talent Show's first three years, coordinator Susan Connolly recalls performers describing the experience as life changing.

That was no idle chatter. Connolly notes that the dance group WTO went on to compete on BET's "106 & Park" and won its "Wild Out Wednesday" contest. Another show alum, singer Samantha Latham, followed up her performance by winning the Gospel's Best competition at the Garde and performing at the Waterford Speedbowl and at the casinos.

Beyond that, Connolly says, "It really has accomplished what people wanted it to accomplish: to give another forum to the youth and to use the arts to sow seeds of understanding."

Four years ago, the production was established in the wake of the murder of Matthew Chew by a group of city teens in a random attack. New London residents got together to create a talent performance that would "lift up New London kids," Connolly says. It was a way to emphasize the good and to show that the city was not going to be defined by the tragedy but by the response, she says.

The first year featured just New London youth onstage. The following year, it was opened up to the region.

Connolly (who is one of the show coordinators, along with Anthony Nolan, Andrea Messenger and Jessica Hill) says the reason for that change was to improve understanding among people. She recalls seeing a hip-hop artist from New London and a country singer form Montville, who had never had any interaction before, giving each other advice on stage presence.

"Sometimes, when you're working side by side with somebody, that makes all the difference in terms of how you view that person," she says.

This year's production, which happens Saturday at the Garde Arts Center, showcases 17 acts, ranging from singers to interpretive dancers to spoken word performers. They were chosen through auditions held in New London and Norwich.

The acts practice sometimes two and three times a week for the four months leading up to the performance. They get coached by a group of adults: Teresa Vasquez, Kia Baird, Sylvia Baird, Marco Frucht, Amanda Darling, and Jamelaa Jones.

The funds raised go back into youth arts programs in the community.

New London Youth Talent Show,
6 p.m. Saturday, Garde Arts Center, State Street, New London; $10; (860) 444-7373.

Patrick Strout, 16, of Ledyard practices his performance of the song
Patrick Strout, 16, of Ledyard practices his performance of the song "Wagon Wheel."
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