Hennepin Theatre Trust announces the 2022-2023 Spotlight Education Triple Threat Broadway Experience and Technical Theater New York Experience award winners, and Minnesota’s nominees for the 2023 National High School Musical Theatre Awards®

June 14, 2023

Students from Alexandria, Apple Valley, Coon Rapids, Hopkins, Mahtomedi, Minneapolis, Osseo, Rosemount, St. Francis and St. Louis Park are recognized for their theatrical experience, skills and leadership earning them a trip to Broadway

MINNEAPOLIS (June 14, 2023) — Hennepin Theatre Trust announced its annual Spotlight Education awards and honors for Minnesota high school theater students possessing excellence in singing, dancing and acting, expertise in stagecraft and an overall demonstration of community leadership, teamwork and artistry. The announcement was made during Spotlight Showcase 2023 (June 12-13) at the historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. The Trust’s annual event formally recognizes the extraordinary achievements of the students and educators who make up Minnesota’s vibrant high school theater community.

“We are proud to welcome over 1,600 students and their families to the State Theatre for Spotlight Showcase which highlights the hard work and dedication from students across the state this past year through theater evaluations and collaborations,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “Because arts education builds crucial skills at a critical point in students’ development, we are proud to provide programming that encourages, inspires and enhances theater programs and strengthens the skills of the next generation of Minnesotan leaders—both onstage and off.”

The four students awarded with the 2022-2023 Triple Threat Broadway Experience are Gabi Acostacano (Eastview High School, outgoing junior), Tai Auran (Alexandria Area High School, graduating senior), Imani Harris (Coon Rapids High School, graduating senior) and Natalie Pietig (Mahtomedi High School, graduating senior).

These students were selected after being evaluated through their performance auditions, a written essay and personal interviews. The Triple Threat Broadway Experience, fueled by Sun Country Airlines, is an all-expenses paid trip to New York City, where they will attend Broadway shows, meet with industry professionals and participate in workshops to hone their skills.

 The two students awarded with the 2022-2023 Technical Theater New York Experience are Lee Richman (Washburn High School, Minneapolis, graduating senior) and  Andrew Segal (Hopkins High School, graduating senior). This award recognizes graduating senior students who demonstrate an expertise in carpentry, wardrobe, electrics, audio, lighting and management. Through their organization, innovation and collaboration in the rehearsal process of Spotlight Showcase, they have won the Technical Theater New York Experience, an all-expenses paid trip to New York, where students will observe, meet and train alongside top technical theater professionals.

Hennepin Theatre Trust also announced that Mia Nelson (Rosemount High School, outgoing junior) and Joe Jacobson (St. Francis High School, graduating senior) will represent Minnesota at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards® (The Jimmy Awards®) on June 26, 2023 at Broadway’s Minksoff Theatre in New York City.

The Jimmy Awards®, presented by The Broadway League Foundation, are a national celebration of outstanding student achievement, recognizing individual artistry in vocal, dance and acting performance and elevating the importance of theatre arts education in schools. The 2023 ceremony will include high school students making their debut on a Broadway stage when they perform in an unforgettable talent showcase. During this event, a panel of judges will select two students for the coveted awards of Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress.

 The Ferrell Dance Award which is dedicated to the memory of high school musical theatre dear friend and veteran Spotlight choreographer, Michael Matthew Ferrell is presented to a senior Featured Dancer who demonstrated leadership, fearlessness and passion in the rehearsal and performance spaces. This year’s recipients are Jaz Borward (Osseo Senior High School, graduating senior) and Jack Mintz (St. Louis Park High School, graduating senior). The award recipient will receive a cash prize that may be used towards training that leads to a certificate or a higher skill level after completing high school. Funding for the Ferrell Dance Award is made possible by the support of Tina Krech and Galleria Edina

Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program is an essential part of arts education in many Minnesota schools. Each year, the program helps nearly 8,000 students in more than 100 high schools build confidence, critical thinking, empathy, a sense of community, knowledge and appreciation of theater. Spotlight Education supplements and enhances arts curricula through production assessments, workshops and arts journalism, increasing equitable access to quality theater education. Additionally, Spotlight Education partners with community organizations and elementary schools to create inclusive and sustainable arts experiences:

Production Assessments
For Minnesota high school students and school communities, Spotlight Education’s Production Assessment is the only noncompetitive, integrated theater experience among all state-wide high school programs. Providing educational feedback and formal recognition allows theater arts programs to flourish and creates meaningful ways to build confidence, critical thinking, knowledge and appreciation of all aspects of theater.

Spotlight Showcase
Spotlight Showcase, the Trust’s annual recognition event, is Minnesota’s largest celebration of high school theater and provides 1,600 students the opportunity to perform at the historic State Theatre. Additionally, Spotlight Education partners with community organizations and elementary schools to create inclusive and sustainable arts experiences.

Student Opportunities
Spotlight facilitates in-person and virtual workshops for students to learn new skills, build community and connect with leading industry professionals. Spotlight opportunities supplement and enhance theater curriculum and introduce students to the world of professional theater from both a local and national perspective. Students who attend a Spotlight high school can attend any session for free.

Disney Musicals in Schools
Disney Musicals in Schools (DMIS) is a program that develops sustainable musical theater programs in public elementary schools. Hennepin Theatre Trust pairs professional teaching artists with teams of school-based educators to produce a 30-minute version of a Disney musical, helping to foster positive relationships between students, faculty, staff, parents and the community. DMIS helps to develop the wide spectrum of skills needed when producing a piece of musical theater, including critical thinking, problem solving, ensemble building, communication, self-confidence and interpersonal skills.

Critical Review
Critical Review is a rigorous writing program that aims to develop critical thinking skills through arts journalism. Students attend and review productions through Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Broadway Season and participate in workshops led by experts in the fields of musical theater, writing and journalism. Student reviews are edited for content and style, discussed with program leaders, and posted through an online portal. Internet access is a requirement to participate.

New York Experiences
Each year, Spotlight Education escorts students to New York City to participate in: The Triple Threat New York Experience fueled by Sun Country Airlines, the Technical Theater New York Experience, and The National High School Musical Theatre Awards (The Jimmy® Awards) made possible by United Properties. During the New York Experience trips, students participate in workshops, meet and train alongside industry professionals and see Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

Bank of America Student Leaders Program
The Student Leaders program offers Hennepin Theatre Trust the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with Bank of America, supporting their ongoing commitment to youth employment and economic mobility. This program recognizes high school students who lead and serve in their own communities and beyond. This 8-week paid internship program helps to equip student Leaders with working experience and tools to help make communities better.

Professional Development Series
Spotlight Education partners with locally and nationally recognized professional development programs to facilitate learning opportunities for Minnesota theater educators. Sessions focus on building professional skills, accessibility in the classroom, equity and inclusion and other areas of arts and theater pedagogy. These low- and no-cost offerings strengthen our relationships with statewide stakeholders and equip our school-based partners to better serve artists and students.

Spotlight Education Teaching Artists in Residence Program
The Spotlight Education Teaching Artists in Residence is a cohort of Minnesota-based artists who engage in a year-long residency with Spotlight Education. This group is made up of theater artists with a strong interest in developing their capacities as educators. Teaching Artists receive an annual stipend as well as pedagogical training from industry leaders, access to company-wide professional development programming and the opportunity to deeply engage with Spotlight programming on every level.

Unpacking the Show
Unpacking The Show is a resource program that equips educators (and by extension, students and audiences) with tools to critically and responsibly approach the canon of musical theatre. The program’s objective is to dig deeper into the dramaturgical content of the musicals produced at the high school level and to develop, in collaboration with directors and educators, a set of best practices on discussing and staging these stories so that everyone in the room feels safe and heard.

Spotlight Showcase, the Trust’s annual recognition event, is Minnesota’s largest celebration of high school theater and provides 1,600 students the opportunity to perform at the historic State Theatre. Additionally, Spotlight Education partners with community organizations and elementary schools to create inclusive and sustainable arts experiences.

Spotlight Education is made possible with support from PNC Bank, Sun Country Airlines and United Properties.
Follow Spotlight Education at:
Instagram: @spotlight_MN
Facebook: /SpotlightMN
Twitter: @spotlightMN

Hennepin Theatre Trust drives cultural and economic vitality in Minnesota through leadership of the dynamic Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis and educational programming that reaches every area of the state. Its historic theatres — Orpheum, State and Pantages — and event center at 900 Hennepin Avenue light up Hennepin Avenue with top-tier entertainment, including the best of Broadway and a wide variety of arts programming. Hennepin Theatre Trust is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Learn more at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.

This activity is made possible by voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.