Check-In: The NHS Musical Theater Awards crew (44 participants, 22 chaperones and more staff members) began trickling in, after traveling from all corners of the country, to New York City. Over the new few hours, they checked into New York University, met roommates and settled into their new “homes” for the week.
Kicking off the week: A few blocks away, the entire NHS Musical Theater Awards group gathered at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU*. They met other peers – some living just a state next-door and some having made the trek there from the opposite end of the country. But even for their different backgrounds, the directors of the program reassured the group that although they walked through the doors of the rehearsal space as 44 “individuals,” they would leave the week having grown into a company.
*More accurately, the Tisch Building could actually be called the nominees' real "home" during the event. They spend about 14 hours each day at the venue during their time at the program!
Morning rehearsals: No time is spared when you’ve got a show to build from scratch in less than one week. Having learned the vocal parts for the opening number Wednesday night, the participants were expected to be ready to keep moving forward first thing the next morning. They ran through the seven-song medley taught to them the night before, staged the entire opening number (a new experience to some of the participants, for whom dancing was unfamiliar territory), worked on the medleys showcasing the roles for which they were nominated for the Jimmy Awards and spent time working on solo pieces with NYU faculty members – all before lunchtime.
Visitors stop by for lunch:After a morning spent rehearsing tirelessly, the nominees were greeted by two special guests at lunchtime who offered them a taste of how the work they’re doing now might pay off for them in the future. Wesley Taylor (The Addams Family, Rock of Ages) and Matt Doyle (Bye Bye Birdie, Spring Awakening) stopped by to talk to the NHS Musical Theater Awards group. For an hour, they offered their own advice and fielded questions about everything from what it’s like to be a part of a professional production to what to do when you’re feeling discouraged by the business. Many of the students said what most stuck with them was the following piece of Matt and Wesley’s advice (helpful in any circumstance, not just musical theater): there will always be others who are more talented or more successful than you, but that it’s important to not get caught up in what others are doing and focus on what you as an individual have to offer.
More rehearsals and solo coaching: Hardly missing a beat, the crew picked right back up where they left off before lunch and spent the afternoon working on their medley numbers and solo pieces. The participants said they appreciated the approach that their coaches brought to the event, treating the high school students like professionals rather than kids.
A trip downtown: The first full day at the NHS Musical Theater Awards wasn't all work, however. Thursday night, the nominees retired early from rehearsals and instead glammed up for a night uptown. Trading out rehearsal attire for their best Broadway-worthy dresses and suits, the participants enjoyed a ride through the city atop a double-decker tour bus (and even treated the passersby on the street to a performance of the tunes they'd rehearsed earlier that day!) On the way to their destination, Memphis, they even took a detour through Times Square, where they enjoyed a photo-op and a chance to take in the the heart of New York City.
Seeing "Memphis" and meeting the cast: The group was abuzz with excitement as they arrived at the Shubert Theatre. And after all, they were seeing Memphis, which had just weeks ago won four of eight awards for which it was nominated at the Tony Awards, including the award for Best Musical. Many of the students said they loved the rock'n'roll-driven music and the intensity of the cast's performance. Others admitted that were moved (some to tears) by the compelling performances of the show's stars – one of whom, Montego Glover, would later serve as a judge for the 2010 Jimmy Awards. And even when the curtains closed and the rest of the house left the auditorium, the NHS Musical Theater Awards group got the chance to enjoy a "talk back" with some of the cast members from the show, including Montego Glover and the show's writer, Joe DiPietro, and others.
Rehearsals, and more rehearsals: A common theme of the NHS Musical Theater Awards is the notion that "you perform how you practice." Appropriately, the group spent its second morning together giving their best efforts to learning and practicing their second all-group number, while they also continued to work with the NYU coaches on their solo pieces. With so many songs to put together by Monday night, the students are undoubtedly doing plenty of multi-tasking!
Another guest visits for lunch: Nicole Adell Johnson (whose performance credits include The Lion King, a film entitled Him and Us and the Lula Washington Dance company) stopped by to give the nominees another perspective life in the theater. She told nominees what it was like to travel with the national tour of The Lion King, talked about how she broke into the business in her twenties and shared other stories of her experiences on- and off-stage. Before she left, Nicole asked all of the nominees to share the role and show for which they were nominated for the Jimmy Awards, and she was excited to see that several of her favorite shows were represented among the group.
Back to rehearsal, this time with costumes: For Friday afternoon's run-throughs, the participants donned all of their outfits for Monday night's show – from the elaborate getups they wore in their high school shows to the matching pieces they'd need for the new Jimmy Awards songs. Then, after a quick "costume parade," it was, of course, back to work. And though they'd been going nearly non-stop since they arrived, the group showed no signs of letting their energy levels drop. Even if they weren't inside the room working with the coaches or directors, the groups took the initiative to practice on their own – turning hallways, lobbies and even the dining room into makeshift rehearsal spaces.
Dinner with NYU Faculty: While the participants enjoyed a break for dinner, they were greeted by another group of guests representing the school they'd been living and working at for the past few days. Chair of the Tisch School of the Arts Department of Drama Elizabeth Bradley, Director of the New Studio on Broadway Kent Gash and Tisch School of the Arts Director of Recruitment Patricia Decker talked about NYU's programs in musical theater and offered additional thoughts on the direction in which musical theater education is heading.
Back to the dorms: By the time their 14-hour day wrapped up, many of the nominees were understandably in need of some down time. Thankfully, the group had a chance to do just that once they got back to their residence hall. The chaperones and staff supplied late-night snacks, and the nominees enjoyed a common room to themselves as they unwound after their first full day of rehearsal.
Solo showcase: They'd spent two days honing the pieces they intended to perform for the judges on Sunday, but the group was divided into smaller sections during their coaching sessions, and many hadn't gotten the chance to see each other's individual performances yet. During the showcase, however, the participants not only got the chance to see everyone else's pieces, but also received feedback and one-on-one direction from NHS Musical Theater Awards President Van Kaplan and Project Director and Choreographer Kiesha Lalama-White.
Lunch with another theater professional: In the last installment of the NHS Musical Theater Awards meet-and-greet meals, the participants welcomed Lisa Howard to lunch. Lisa performed on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, 9 to 5: The Musical and South Pacific.
Wrapping up the staging for Monday's performance: After almost three days' worth of building the show from start to finish, it was finally time to learn the choreography for the last group numbers of the show. Four hours later, every detail – from the angle of a jazz hand to the exact bounce with which a group walked across the stage – had been taught, and the show was almost complete. But even at this point, their work was far from done. Now that the performers had the numbers in their heads, it was time to make sure the steps they learned really came to life and were ready to light up the Marquis Theatre stage by "places" on Monday night.
Photo credit: Henry McGee
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