BWW Interview: Q&A with Bobby G Award Winners Elleon Dobias and Austin Hand
The winners of Colorado's Bobby G Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Austin Hand) and Actress (Elleon Dobias) are currently in New York City as finalists for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (The Jimmy Awards), which recognizes excellence in high school musical theatre across the nation. After a week-long intensive, the students will make their Broadway debut at the Minskoff Theatre in a ceremony hosted by recent Tony-Award-winner Ben Platt, currently starring on Broadway in Dear Evan Hansen.
Austin, of Fossil Ridge High School, won for his portrayal of Gomez Addams in The Addams Family. Elleon, of Valor Christian High School, won for her portrayal of Catherine in Pippin. Valor Christian's Pippin also took home the Bobby G Award for Outstanding Musical. We caught up with the students before they left earlier this week.
Congrats on your win! Have you attended the Bobby G Awards before?
Elleon: Thank you! The Bobby G's have been one of the highlights of my high school theatre experience since freshman year. Celebrating the collaborations of Colorado's best high school performing artists motivated me to work with even more passion, and it became my goal to hopefully inspire my classmates to do the same
Austin: Thank you very much! And as for attending the Bobby G Awards before this year, I have not! This was the first year that Fossil Ridge High School put itself up to be adjudicated, so my whole school was ecstatic to simply attend the ceremony. Being nominated made the experience that much more unreal for me, and receiving the award was obviously the most fantastic way to close out the night!
What was running through your head as you were heading to the stage to accept your award?
Elleon: I couldn't believe it at first. It was almost an out-of-body experience -- I couldn't really see or hear or think clearly, but only feel this sense of overwhelming gratitude. I had been nominated three times before, and to receive the honor of representing my school and my home state in New York is a dream come true.
Austin: There's actually a video clip that gets played in different montages of this year's ceremony in which I'm running up to the stage smiling like an idiot after my name was read for Outstanding Lead Actor. Every time I see it I try to remember what I was thinking about as I was running, but I still haven't been able to recall a single thought. All of the nominees were holding hands for what felt like the longest 10 seconds ever before they announced the Lead Actor/Actress recipients, and my name sounded so weird to me when it was announced through the speakers. As soon as I heard it, I remember endless hugs and cheers from the other nominees and then everything went to a blur.
Aside from your big moment, what else stands out to you as highlights of this year's ceremony?
Elleon: My school's show, Pippin, ended up winning the Bobby G for Best Overall Production (the final award of the night). I will never forget the joy that erupted amongst the cast as our name was called, and how absolutely blissful those following moments were. I had graduated high school earlier that day, and it ended beautifully: surrounded by my dear friends as their hard work was rewarded. It was priceless.
Austin: Performing the medley with the other nominees was ridiculously fun, and I felt so honored to share the stage with the most talented, humble, and hilarious group of people I've ever met. I remember earlier that day during dress rehearsal for the ceremony, it got brought up that we had only known each other for a week, which was so odd to think about. In such a short amount of time, I developed such a love and respect for them that made the ceremony even more special.
Another highlight actually occurred directly after the ceremony as I took one step outside the Opera House doors and was bombarded by every member of my theatre department. This was the first time I'd seen them at all since the ceremony started because I sat in the nominee section of the audience while watching the show. I could feel my heart bursting with every emotion possible as I was embraced by all the people I love.
How did you celebrate your win?
Elleon: Chips and guacamole is the ONLY way to celebrate.
Austin: Lavishly. On our way home from Denver, my mom and a couple of my closest friends stopped by 7/11 for Slurpees and snacks. That was quite possibly the best bag of Chex Mix I'd ever had in my life.
What are you planning to do to prepare for your New York trip? Is it your first time there?
Elleon: I stayed in New York for one night on a school trip when I was thirteen, and the eighth-grade class went to see The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre (where the Jimmy Awards will take place). It is surreal to think that I have been given the opportunity to perform on the exact stage that inspired me to audition for my first musical ever four years ago. In preparation, I have been practicing various solos, focusing on staying healthy, and watching basically every Jimmy Awards video in existence...
Austin: I actually had the incredible opportunity to travel to New York with my choir and drama club a couple of months ago! It was easily the most fun trip I've ever taken, and I am beyond thrilled (and baffled) to be going back so soon. I'm obviously anticipating this time around to much more exhausting and work-heavy than the last, but I feel like that will make it even more fulfilling! As such, I'm resting as much as I can, looking over music, and trying not to explode from excitement.
What are you most proud about in your performance?
Elleon: At first, the rapid development and the vulnerability this role called for was intimidating to me. But, throughout the process, the constant kindness and talent of the cast (especially our Pippin, Gable Kinsman) had me feeling comfortable enough on stage to finally focus the previous anxiety into freedom. Every night was nuanced, because I finally felt safe enough within my vulnerability to surrender control and let the moments guide themselves.
Austin: Going into playing Gomez, I wanted to focus on losing myself in the character and blurring that distinction between who I am and who he could be. Up until The Addams Family, I had primarily played children in supporting roles that I found it difficult to truly dive into. I'd become familiarized with how to play the naïve, innocent little boy and was craving a challenge. Gomez was completely opposite of every character I'd played in almost every aspect, and I found myself really becoming him when I was on stage. It felt electrifying and somewhat like an out-of-body experience. In this way, I'm most proud of how much I devoted to not just the role, but the person of Gomez Addams.
What was the hardest part of your role? And what just came naturally?
Elleon: Under the very false assumption that it couldn't really be too difficult, I excitedly agreed to teach myself how to unicycle for my character's appearances throughout the first act. After countless hours, a fractuRed Foot bone, and an unhealthy amount of muttered cussing at a local tennis court, I finally got it. Luckily, much of Catherine's quirky personality came more naturally to me. Almost always having played comedic cameo roles, I was able to embody that same sense of play with the audience, which was a blast.
Austin: The sexiness was pretty messy at first. That whole suave aspect of Gomez isn't really something I'd played before, nor am I all that familiar with it offstage. Working with Caroline Frevert, who played Morticia, on developing our relationship and how we wanted to play it helped it all come together. Oppositely, I'd say the general vibrancy and outgoing nature of Gomez came rather naturally. I'm not a shy person to begin with, so emphasizing and caricaturizing this aspect of my personality was not only fairly easy, but also incredibly enjoyable.
Name a few other roles you'd like to tackle in the future.
Elleon: Queenie (Wild Party), Clio (Xanadu), and Big/Little Edie (Grey Gardens) are just a few of my dream roles, but my biggest dream of all would be to originate a role in a new musical. It would also be super cool to revisit a few of the characters I've already had the chance to play in high school and really enjoyed like Miss Andrew (Mary Poppins) or even Catherine (Pippin).
Austin: Last time I went to New York, I got the chance to see Chicago on Broadway. This sparked my adoration for the musical itself, as well as my strong desire to play Billy Flynn. I don't care if it's in an unlicensed rendition on the streets of Denver, Billy is definitely a dream role of mine.
Who are some performers you look up to?
Elleon: Last year in an acting class, I received the unique assignment to research, write, and perform a ten-minute monologue as someone who changed history. I decided to go with Phyllis Diller, one of the first successful women in stand-up comedy. Along with many of my other favorite actress/performers including Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller's groundbreaking process and delivery has greatly influenced my perspective.
Austin: Any time I watch a movie with Jack Nicholson, I find myself taking mental notes of different techniques and skills he utilizes while acting. He possesses the ability to take seemingly simple characters and morph them into complex beings that seem too real to be fiction. Jessie Mueller is another big one for me. Waitress is one of my favorite musicals of all time, and I love that I can hear her acting when I listen to the soundtrack. When she performs, her character takes over her entire essence.
Favorite show currently playing on Broadway?
Elleon: This question is too hard!! But there is no denying that Ben Platt's performance in Dear Evan Hansen was phenomenal...and not to mention Rachel Bay Jones, ahhh! I could listen to that cast album all day.
Austin: My favorite show right now is definitely Waitress, which I actually had the immense privilege to see on Broadway. Sara Bareilles, who wrote all the music for the show and also played the lead role of Jenna for a while, has been my favorite songwriter for years upon years, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered she was going to be involved in writing a musical. Little did I know how much I would fall in love with the show, and I certainly never expected to see it live on a Broadway stage! By the end of the show, I was bawling my eyes out while eating my little bowl of key lime pie they sell at intermission.
What style of musical is your favorite to watch? Is that also your favorite style to perform?
Elleon: Golden age, contemporary, anything Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown...I also love to see revivals of older musicals, like Pippin! It is always interesting to see how the same show can be taken in an entirely different emotional direction in the hands of a new creative team. I have sincerely enjoyed every style I've had the opportunity to perform, but would love to try something more jazz age or even a rock musical sometime in the future!
Austin: My favorite style to both watch and perform would definitely be comedy. Making people laugh is not only the part of entertainment that I love most, but also probably the part I'm best at. Don't get me wrong, I love a good drama and some of my favorite roles I've played were in serious shows, but I think the music in comedies is often the most fun to listen to as well as perform.
How long have you been doing theatre? Do you plan to stay in theatre after you graduate?
Elleon: In eighth grade, one of my elective classes required that I audition for the spring musical, Beauty and the Beast. It was my first show, and I secretly wanted the role of Mrs. Potts so badly that I made my own teapot costume out of hula hoops and yarn at home to prepare for auditions...embarrassing, but I ended up getting the part and haven't stopped since! The theatre has become my second home, my castmates my second family, and I am forever grateful. This fall, I will be attending Roosevelt University to pursue performing in the city of Chicago.
Austin: I joined theatre in middle school hoping to acquire the skills necessary to make it in film acting, but the more I've continued with musical theatre, the more my passion for it has developed. I just finished up my sophomore year of high school, so I haven't thought too much about plans for college and that sort of thing, but whatever I do I definitely want to entertain. Whether this is in film acting, stage acting, music, comedy, or anything else along those lines, I know I want to make people feel emotions and tell stories. That is my absolute favorite way to spend my time.
Photos by John Moore and Emily Lozow for the DCPA NewsCenter