Minnesota students shine at Virtually Together
When Hennepin Theatre Trust streamed Virtually Together — this summer’s Spotlight Education program celebrating high school theater in Minnesota — students across the state watched, waiting for one of many big reveals.
“That was definitely an anxiety filled morning,” said Emma Schuld, a 2020 Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, whose story came full circle during Virtually Together.
The program featured performances from some of the state’s most dedicated young performers, and it culminated in the announcement of which of those students were awarded Spotlight’s biggest honors and would be heading to New York City in the future.
Emma and more than two dozen other performers and technical theater students watched the event, proud of the work they were able to create even amid a pandemic. For Emma, it wasn’t hearing her name announced as a Triple Threat winner, it was also the emcee.
“My theater idol, Meghan Kreidler, came on, and she talked about dismantling racism and how we can do better,” explained Emma. “Hearing her say my name, I just dropped to the ground, my head in my hands, and I just started bawling.”
The moment was five years in the making for Emma, who was in seventh grade when she first saw Kreidler as Tiger Lily in Peter Pan at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. It was the first time Emma saw an Asian American woman on stage, and it was also the day Emma decided she would be a performer. Since then, she’s embraced her dream, pouring her time and energy into school performances and Spotlight Education programs, where she’s been able to learn about performing from working professionals, take masterclasses to improve her skills, and receive constructive critiques about improving her skills. These programs have been shown to help students build confidence, empathy, sense of community and knowledge of musical theater.
Emma was among six students honored with the 2020 Spotlight Education Triple Threat Award. More than 100 high school juniors and seniors apply for the program, which honors students for excellence in singing, acting and dancing, as well as demonstrating community leadership, teamwork and artistry. The other winners are Lillian Carlson (Washburn High School, Minneapolis), Andrew Daniels (Prior Lake High School), Aliya Mukamuri (Mankato East High School), Chris Owusu (Maple Grove Senior High School), and Payton Seacrist (Eastview High School, Apple Valley).
The honorees will head to New York for the Spotlight Education Triple Threat Broadway Experience, fueled by Sun Country Airlines. The unique experience is an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, when it is safe to do so, to meet with industry professionals, participate in workshops and attend Broadway shows.
Also heading to New York to meet with theater professionals are the Trust’s first ever recipients of the Spotlight Education Technical Theatre Excellence award, Simon Kroll (Pierz Healy High School) and Adamson Novak (Maple Grove Senior High School).
For all of these students, and the dozens of others who helped make Virtually Together a beautiful production filled with emotional and uplifting performances, the virtual video tribute is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, auditioning, rehearsing, and learning.
The Trust’s Spotlight Education team created the show after the ongoing pandemic forced the cancellation of Spotlight Showcase, an annual event at the historic State Theatre that applauds the hard work and talents of more than 1,600 of the state’s finest musical theater students and programs.
After a spring that included canceled musicals, proms, graduations and more, students leapt at the chance to take part in a new program. And the students dedicated multiple hours over the course of weeks to make the program happen.
“Being reconnected with the Spotlight team and my friends, to make it through the audition process and to think about non-COVID related things, just singing in my bedroom was totally therapeutic,” said Emma. “It was almost better, because we spent so much time together while not being together, it almost made us cherish it more.”
Lillian Carlson, a recent graduate of Washburn High School shared that she and some of her fellow performers worked daily for a week to get their videos submitted, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. to get it just right.
“It was the good crazy work energy that you get when you’re over exhausted and you just have to keep going. It was something to look forward to,” she said. “Luckily it still happened, they could have just shut it down, and they followed through with it. This whole Triple Threat experience felt like more of a graduation than my graduation did.”
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The history that has unfolded on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre is Minnesota’s history. Hennepin Theatre Trust stands with NIVA to request specific federal support for independent venues and promoters across the country during this shutdown. You can help #SaveOurStages with one quick letter to Minnesota lawmakers.
Lillian says she’s still a little confused and surprised that she was one of the Triple Threat winners. But she knows that the experiences are valuable as she embarks on the next stage of her performing career. Lillian is already registered for 18 credits for her first semester at the University of Evansville. She plans to major in acting.
And she’s looking forward to that trip to New York, not just because she loves the city.
“I’m really excited to work with working actors and casting directors and whomever they bring to the table,” Lillian said. “To be able to learn from people who are doing it is really important.”
Emma is planning to attend the University of Minnesota and the Guthrie Theater’s esteemed BFA program. She shared the same sentiment, with the hopes that she will learn things that she can apply to her career.
“One of their most notable alumni is [Broadway and television star] Santino Fontana,” she explained. “I want to meet him so bad. I would love to talk about the program, and I would love to hear about his experience with it.”
The idea of learning from professionals isn’t just on the mind of performers.
Simon Kroll, fresh off graduating from Pierz Healy High School, is hoping to get insight from theater tech professionals in New York on possible career paths.
Simon won one of Spotlight Education Technical Theatre Excellence awards with a presentation on turning a drive-in movie venue into a social distance-friendly live theater space. He tackled the technical and logistical issues to make it happen, presenting three options for different budgets. He says it’s the problem solving that makes theater so interesting to him.
Simon has been doing lighting and sound for his high school since he was in third grade, with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which is his favorite show to this day.
But his favorite show to work tech on was Into the Woods, because it was the biggest show he’s worked on, requiring mics for 13 people, and lots of creative problem solving.
He says it’s a good background as he prepares to study engineering at North Dakota State University.
“I feel like doing technical theater prepared me for a career in STEM. If something would break it was up to me to figure out how I would go about fixing it,” he explained. “What was the back-up plan, and what was the back-up plan to the back-up plan. That definitely prepared me for challenges that required problem solving and thinking on your feet.”
That problem solving is sure to serve him — and all the Spotlight Education award winners well as they tackle college and careers in this uncertain climate.
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