A “Spotlight kid” herself, head of celebrated program says it changed her life’s course
MINNEAPOLIS— Hennepin Theatre Trust is pleased to announce it has selected Ari Koehnen Sweeney, who grew up in musical theatre circles known as a “Spotlight kid,” as director of education. Since joining the organization in 2015, Koehnen Sweeney has managed Spotlight Education, the celebrated program of Hennepin Theatre Trust that provides thousands of high school students training in performance and technical skills.
“Ari has strong leadership skills, valuable community relationships and a fierce commitment to the arts, which makes her the perfect choice for this role,” says Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “Perhaps more important, she has been a part of our signature program as a student, so has a deep understanding of what best serves our students and our schools.”
Spotlight Education partners with more than 100 high schools around Minnesota to help strengthen their existing musical theatre programs. The program also offers masterclasses in musical and theatre performance, stage management and technical skills such as lighting and set design. Graduates, many of whom pursue careers in performing arts, are affectionately called “Spotlight kids” and embrace relationships within their alumni network.
“Spotlight changed the direction of my life,” says Koehnen Sweeney, who was also a student athlete at Minnetonka High School and once had dreams of playing in the WNBA. ”It not only opened my eyes to a career in performing arts, it gave me confidence, poise, and leadership skills to succeed — all while I thought I was just learning how to manage a production.”
Prior to joining Hennepin Theatre Trust, Koehnen Sweeney worked for two years at the Old Log Theatre, where she ushered the transition of ownership and led a process to align the theater’s policies and practices with current industry and technology standards. During that time, she served as stage manager for Spotlight Showcase, the annual awards and recognition event for Spotlight Education.
The Spotlight Education program provides schools with formal assessments of their musical theatre programs by industry professionals. At Hennepin Theatre Trust, Koehnen Sweeney is credited with streamlining this assessment process and developing curriculum for the professional evaluators who attend high school performances and provide formal evaluations of the production and program.
“I find myself respecting what was, and understanding what is, but I am most interested in creating excitement about what could be,” she said about her new role and Spotlight’s opportunities for growth.
For more about Spotlight Education, visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org/spotlight-education.
HENNEPIN THEATRE TRUST is a nonprofit organization that creates positive change through the arts by serving the community through their downtown Minneapolis historic theatres – the Orpheum, State and Pantages – and unique arts, culture and education programs. All performances of the Trust’s Broadway on Hennepin series are supported by Bank of America. The Trust’s Living Legend concert series is supported by BMO Harris Bank. The Trust’s Spotlight Education Spotlight Showcase is sponsored by Fredrikson & Byron, Slumberland Furniture and Sun Country Airlines. Learn more at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.