It’s 3 p.m. at Public School 124, also known as Yung Wing School, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and the theater club kids are ready to break a leg. There are just a few weeks left until their big trip to Atlanta for a three-day event called the Junior Theater Festival, and they’re hoping to add another trophy to the assortment that fills the school’s front lobby.

“Sit up straight!” calls out instructor Kyle Garvin from the base of the stage. “Pretend there’s a string attached to your head, and it’s pulling you up!” Each of the 24 students, from grades three through five, suddenly grows an inch taller. An upbeat show tune adapted from the animated movie “Madagascar” fills the auditorium. One row of children, sitting with their backs to the instructor, turns and beams dazzling, thousand-watt smiles at an imaginary crowd. “It’s showtiiime!” they sing. Another row turns: “Showtime!” A third row turns. At the top of their lungs, they sing, “Showtime!” and leap to their feet.

From the back of the auditorium, their coach, former Broadway star Baayork Lee, looks on smiling. “You should have seen them at the beginning of the year,” she says. “Some of them were so shy. They wouldn’t even open their mouths to sing. Or they would barely sing above a whisper. By the end of the term, they completely open up.”

Read more about this New York Chinatown Theater by Eveline Chao at The Hechinger Report