Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards Shine Spotlight on Tomorrow's Talent on June 6


Norwich, CT's The Spirit of Broadway Theater is a hotbed for young theatrical talent.   Within any given production, the cast is sure to feature some up-and-coming performers, hungry to cut their teeth in a professional production.  Spirit of Broadway Founder and Artistic Director Brett Bernardini has found a way to help cultivate the next generation of theatrical talent.  Building on his own career in theatre education, he created the Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards, an annual showcase for the finest stage work on the boards during the school year.  In so doing, Bernardini is honoring theatre created in high schools across the Nutmeg State, providing access to opportunities for continuing professional development, and shining the spotlight on the stars of tomorrow. Aside from handing out the awards, the evening will consist of professional-caliber performances from the nominated musicals, actors and actresses.

Amidst the flurry of preparations for this year's event, to be held at Waterbury's majestic Palace Theatre on Monday, June 6th, BroadwayWorld grabbed a few moments with Bernardini to find out what the awards are all about.

How did The Spirit of Broadway Theater get involved in creating the Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards? 

Having been a high school teacher for 20 years, I have seen what powerful and high quality theater arts programs can do for high school students. Since The Spirit of Broadway Theater offered no educational programs for high school students and I wanted to capitalize on the wealth of creative theater professionals I personally knew, I set out to create a program that achieved both.

While serving on the Board of Directors of The National Alliance for Musical Theater in New York City, my colleagues and I were discussing their own successful awards program.  We discovered that with the closure of the North Shore Music Theatre (in Beverly, MA), New England would not have any such awards program.  North Shore had the only one at the time.

So, I first took on the challenge to build a year-long educational program and secondly use the awards as a vehicle to lift up these amazing programs around the State for everyone to see, discover, learn from and emulate. Working with the support of my colleagues' education programs at Papermill Playhouse, NJ, what we have today is the result.

How many schools initially participated and how many are involved now?

I think in 2009 we had 13.  In 2009 we had 19 and in 2010 we have 18.

How are the winning productions and performances selected?

The Connecticut High School Music Theater Awards is comprised of two rounds of competition. The Production Round runs from January through April and consists of Evaluators attending school productions and making recommendations of performances or production elements which they feel should move into the second round of the competition, the Nomination Round. The Nomination Round begins after all shows have been initially adjudicated. The Nomination Committee, made up of Spirit of Broadway Theater Staff and theater professionals, considers the recommendations made by the Evaluators and analyzes the support material submitted by participants to determine the slate of Final Nominees.  The Nomination Committee considers all eligible candidates with a fresh perspective and thoroughly reviews the Evaluator feedback, scoring and mandatory support material. At the conclusion of the Nomination Round, a slate of Final Nominations is announced.

Where have you held the awards in the past and how did you choose the Palace Theatre in Waterbury for the 2011 ceremony?

 The first year we were at The Garde Arts Center  in New London as I had hoped to showcase Southeastern CT and all we have to offer.  In 2010, we were at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.  This year we are at The Palace Theater in Waterbury.

I chose the Palace for several reason.  First and foremost, when we initally met to discuss this program and the event, The Palace staff was as excited about the event as I was.  Secondly, I like the idea of moving around the State, thus making it more and more accessible for everyone.  However, having said that, the location of The Palace seems to be convenient for all of the 18 schools from all over the State and I would happily consider returning there next year...if they will have us!!

You've been doing this for a few years now.  Any success stories from past winners?

Yes!  In 2009, our Outstanding Actor, Stephen Marks from Ridgfield High School, and our Outstanding Actress, Grace Hardin also from Ridgefield High School, attended the first National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York City.  Both actors ended up in the finals!.  Stephen Marks went on to win Nationals receiving, a full four-year scholarship to New York's Tisch School of the Arts and a $10,000 check from the Nederlanders.

In 2010, our Outstanding Actor, John Jorge from Amity High School, and Outstanding Actress Katie Oxman both went to Nationals in New York.  John made it to the final four! They both had private auditions for Nickelodeon Television, were looked at by William Morris Agency, and John was offered a full scholarship to Point Park University in Pittsburgh and Katie was offered a half-scholarship to Point Park in Pittsburgh.

Can the public attend the awards?  If so, how can they get tickets?

I certainly hope the public WILL attend!  I believe there are at least 2,700 people in Connecticut who will join me at The Palace Theater on Monday, June 6, 2011 to stand up for high quality musical theater educational opportunities in Connecticut's High Schools.  Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, Grandparents, theater professionals...everyone and anyone who believes that musical theater education should be part of our high schools in Connecticut are encouraged to come to the Palace Theater on Monday, June 6, 2011 and take a stand with me!

Tickets for the Connecticut High School Theater Awards are $50 and $75 Tickets including special seating and reception options.  $2,500 Private Boxes for parties of 6 include champagne and hors d'oeuvres platters, plus admission to a VIP reception.   All monies from ticket sales, goes directly back into the CHSMTA program to cover expenses of the program and the gala.  For tickets, call the Palace Theater Box Office at (203) 346-3998.  Information:

Photograph Courtesy of Brett Bernardini.  Pictured:  John Jorge - 2010 Outstanding Actor, Amity High School -  and Katie Oxman - 2010 Outstanding Actress, New Canaan High School.


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