Interview: Meet the Jimmy Awards Inspiring Teachers, Jacqueline McLean & Paul Fillingim

The 15th Annual Jimmy Awards will be held on Monday, June 24 at the Minskoff Theatre.

By: Jun. 21, 2024
Interview: Meet the Jimmy Awards Inspiring Teachers, Jacqueline McLean & Paul Fillingim
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While all eyes will be on the 102 talented performers on the Minskoff Theatre stage on June 24, two other offstage honorees have already been anounced for the 2024 Jimmy Awards.

Jacqueline McLean, Le Roy Jr. Sr. High School (Rochester, NY) and Paul Fillingim, Ronald Reagan High School (San Antonio, TX) will be bestowed with the Inspiring Teacher Award, presented in memory of Luigi Caiola. The award is given to teachers who have been nominated by their students and chosen by a selection committee of Broadway League members as recognition of their roles in providing valuable guidance and encouragement for their students who excelled during last year’s Jimmy Awards.

We chatted with Paul and Jacqueline to learn more about what makes them inspiring teachers. Read the full interview below!

Congratulations on this very special honor! How does it make you feel to be selected?

PF: Initially, I was in shock. I found out in an email from my principal with the subject line “CONFIDENTIAL” (in all caps) and I thought “Am I getting fired?” Now that I’ve had a moment to process what it means, I am incredibly grateful. I feel honored that my student, Cameron Duggins, felt compelled to nominate me.

JM: I am still in slight shock to be completely honest. I am so grateful for this honor and award. I love music and theatre education so much and truly do it because I want students to have authentic arts experiences. The award is just a wonderful recognition for the hard work that my students and I put in to our work together.

What was it like watching your students perform at last year's ceremony?

JM: Watching my student, Evan Williams, on stage last year was one of the most amazing experiences of my career. He was such a hard worker. You give students the tools to do great things, but it is up to them to apply it. Evan was at home on that stage and all I could think about was the amazing things he was going to do with his professional life. Pure joy and excitement for him!

PF: Honestly, it was watching Cameron’s parents see him realize this dream that sticks out in my memory. The look on their faces was unforgettable. While I was watching Cameron, I didn’t really have the ability turn off the “teacher” part of my brain. Leading up to the Jimmys, Cameron and I had many conversations about what this experience would entail —and I kept thinking about his goals as he walked on stage. Cameron is an absolute perfectionist. I wanted him to feel proud of what he accomplished the first time he performed on a Broadway stage. I knew he had everything it took to be successful at that moment and he went out there and slayed his performance. It was a joyful thing to watch.

 What kind of advice did you give them going into their Jimmy Awards experience?

PF: I’ve had the incredible fortune of having three students go to the Jimmys before Cameron.  I took those students’ experiences and passed their stories on to him. I think for most performers any anxiety they are experiencing is from the unknown, so having the ability to equip Cameron with that prior knowledge made him feel more confident going into rehearsal week. I also told him to be present and to take in every part of the experience. No matter what happens in his career, he is currently studying Vocal Performance at Northwestern, the Jimmys will be a landmark.

JM: My advice to Evan was to soak up every second of the experience and opportunity and to be his authentic and kind self. Not only did he do that, but he created a community of friends, networked, and came home with so many wonderful stories and experiences. I am still so incredibly proud of him!

What is the most fulfilling part about being a theatre teacher?

PF: Creating a community. Somehow my path has brought me to an incredible group of collaborators, in the Reagan High School Fine Arts department, who all have the same goal: to create a safe space for students to work towards their full potential.  The Fine Arts faculty are as diverse in our belief systems as our students. We want our students to work together towards a common goal, while also celebrating their differences. This feeling of community extends to the faculty, administration, and our parents. We consistently sell out our musicals and a huge portion of our audience are community members who have had students in our program. They still want to be supportive of the arts community that impacted their family. 

JM: The most fulfilling part about being a theatre educator is teaching students how to accept and love themselves. Theatre and acting has the power to teach you so much about your true self. When you can find that, your work on stage becomes more authentic but you also become a more authentic person. At times, the content is not as important as the human beings that we are helping to mold.

Why do you think that arts education is so important?

 JM: The arts allow for students to explore, create, experience, and play. They teach students about inter-personal connections and relationship building. The arts are an essential part of education, maybe more than ever as we see students often sitting to learn in front of a computer. To be able to create is essential and part of human nature. I am just so lucky to be part of the maker and creator community. Art’s education is for everyone. My main goal at the LeRoy district is to make sure that ALL students have the experience of theatre and music, we pride ourselves on inclusion. 

PF: I could write a book on this, but I will reduce it down to one word — empathy.  We live in a divided country right now, but what I see happening every day in our rehearsals gives me hope. Teaching in Texas, our students often have radically opposing views, yet I see students who might never interact normally, forming relationships that foster understanding.  I want this new understanding to make its way onstage. Whether it is through new works, arts advocacy, or furthering diversity both on and off-stage. In Texas, it is required that every high school, no matter how small, must compete in our state’s One-Act Play competition (the largest high school play competition in the world).  This means even in the tiniest of Texas towns students work together to tell a story that will hopefully open their minds to different ways of life. It may surprise some that a play competition of this size is occurring in my state, however I will always believe that theatre can change the world—no matter where it is happening.

Are you excited to take the stage on June 24?

PF: Of course! I once heard a journalist, who had dreamed of going to the Olympics as a gymnast, say that being able to travel to the Olympics as part of the media fulfilled that dream. Receiving this award made me relate that that story. I dreamed of being on Broadway for many years, but this moment feels like the actualization of that goal. It gives me the opportunity to show my students that your dreams can take shape in ways you could never imagine. It also gives me the chance to thank all of the people who support me: my husband, my children, and my parents, along with everyone at Reagan High School — from the students, to the parents, and my colleagues.  Ultimately, this award is about the responsibility educators have been given to inspire future artists, advocates, and audience members.  It takes a village to create an environment that contributes to such a vision, and I have a fabulous village.

JM: I am so incredibly excited to take the stage at the Minskoff! It is a dream come true for me, one that I have been thinking about since I was a little girl who went into NYC to see Broadway shows and thought, how can I be part of that? Now a teacher of theatre and music I feel so lucky to be in this space. I am very much looking forward to this amazing evening!

The National High School Musical Theatre Awards®, better known as the Jimmy Awards®, is a coast-to-coast celebration of outstanding student achievement, recognizing individual talent in vocal, dance, and acting performance. The program impacts approximately 130,000 students who participate in regional high school musical theatre competitions sponsored by presenters of Touring Broadway productions throughout the United States. The 2024 Jimmy Awards anticipates welcoming more than 100 nominees from over 50 cities across the country as they make their debuts on a Broadway stage. During this exhilarating talent showcase, a panel of judges will select two students to receive the coveted awards of Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress. Named for Broadway impresario James M. Nederlander, the Jimmy Awards has been the catalyst for more than $6,000,000 in educational scholarships.

Full list of 2024 nominees!