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Hennepin Theatre Trust Announces The 2020 Spotlight Education Honors For Minnesota High School Musical Theater Students

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Hennepin Theatre Trust announced the six students honored with the 2020 Spotlight Education Triple Threat Award 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), Emma Schuld (Cretin-Derham Hall, St. Paul) and Payton Seacrist (Eastview High School, Apple Valley). The announcement was made Tuesday night through a special online video, Virtually Together: A 2020 Spotlight Tribute, which acknowledged those who participated in Spotlight Education, the Trust's flagship education program for Minnesota's high school musical theater students and programs.

Triple Threat honorees are praised for their excellence in singing, acting and dancing, as well as demonstrating community leadership, teamwork and artistry. More than 100 junior and senior high school students submitted application portfolios of their singing, acting and dancing. This year, due to COVID-19, the selection process, including callbacks, interviews and rehearsals, went virtual. Following a series of vigorous evaluations, this year's Triple Threat honorees will participate in 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.

"We congratulate our Spotlight students for their hard work and drive during these most uncertain times. The arts can be a vehicle for positive change by sparking conversation, understanding and acceptance," said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. "Their commitment and performing, as well as serving their communities, is a testament that the power of tomorrow is in the hands of today's young people."

Spotlight organizers also introduced a brand-new award recognizing the focus, discipline and vision it takes to be a well-rounded theater technician. Often praised as the unsung heroes of a live production, these skilled artists ensure the lights come up, the mics come on and the curtains come down. It's often said that if all goes well, audiences will never notice they were there. The Trust, however, felt the value and craft these students bring to their high school productions deserved recognition.

This year, the Trust is proud to announce the first recipients of the Spotlight Education Technical Theatre Excellence award are Simon Kroll (Pierz Healy High School) and Adamson Novak (Maple Grove Senior High School). The Trust will be sending Kroll and Novak to New York, also at a later date, to engage with a community of professional technical artists to better hone their skills and create connections.

Traditionally, Spotlight Showcase takes place in June and is the culminating celebratory two-night 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 with live performances. Schools and students are also praised for excellence in categories including individual performance, overall productions and technical achievement.

"While the annual celebration could not take place this year due to COVID-19, we made the difficult decision to cancel Spotlight Showcase and though nothing can take the place of that experience, we created Virtually Together, a video tribute to our students and high school musical theater programs across the state," said Ari Koehnen Sweeney, director of education for Hennepin Theatre Trust. Spotlight organizers have cited that while this has been an emotional time in history for many reasons, it was important to share moments of joy, humor and gratitude in an uplifting way. "Our purpose is for an evening filled with upbeat and touching performances," said Sweeney. Virtually Together is available on the Trust's website at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.

"Among the many accolades, we also announce the two students that would be representing Minnesota at the Jimmy Awards," said Sweeney. "Sadly, the 2020 Jimmy Awards were canceled before we began our evaluation process, so we decided to expand the Spotlight Education Triple Threat Broadway Experience from four students to six students." The Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, is a national talent showcase presented by The Broadway League Foundation in New York City. The Trust's participation is appreciatively funded by United Properties.

In addition to highlighting individual students, Spotlight organizers are also proud to celebrate the incredible work of Minnesota high school musical theater directors and programs. The Trust has named Jim Lund (Chanhassen High School, theater department director) as this year's recipient of Spotlight's Theatre Educator Award. Lund was selected for his undying passion of theater by creating an atmosphere of unity, accessibility and encouragement.

Additionally, the Trust has presented the following schools with a Community Engagement Award for their dedication to serving their communities:

Buffalo High School

Buffalo High School chose to focus on a message of inclusion and kindness with their production of Guys and Dolls by creating a leadership team tasked with mindfulness and self-care.

Chanhassen High School

To create a safe and inclusive space for all patrons, Chanhassen High School presented its first-ever sensory friendly performance with Little Shop of Horrors.

East Ridge High School (Woodbury)

East Ridge took their production of The Drowsy Chaperone to two local nursing homes, entertaining their residents.


Hill-Murray School (Maplewood)

Partnering with the school's DECA program, they cleverly organized "A Howl a Day Inn," a puppy adoption drive during the run of their production of Holiday Inn.

Maple Grove Senior High School

Maple Grove Senior High School used their production of Ragtime as a catalyst for conversation and understanding with a matinee for the student body.

St. Francis High School

Continuing their inclusive outreach efforts, St. Francis High School presented a free, sensory-friendly and ASL-interpreted production of Peter and the Starcatcher.

St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists

As an extension of an intergenerational theater class, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists presented Seniors to Seniors, a virtual cabaret for isolated senior citizens in their community.

Now completing its 20th year, Spotlight Education, generously supported by PNC Bank and Sun Country Airlines, is an essential part of arts education. The program provides meaningful experiences for high school students in more than 100 schools throughout Minnesota in rural, urban and suburban counties increasing equitable access to quality musical theater education. Students receive professional training and guidance to enhance their artistic, technical and performing skills. The wide-ranging program's four key components are masterclasses, Critical Review - theatrical review writing instruction, production assessments and Spotlight Showcase. Throughout the year, Spotlight students attend Spotlight Education masterclasses, rehearse, perform and engage with teaching artists to receive feedback on their high school productions.

The Trust's education department has also been offering online learning opportunities for Spotlight students as soon as social distancing measures were enacted in response to COVID-19 earlier this year. Events that were typically hosted in-person at the Trust's event center transitioned to online engagement with virtual masterclasses and a new live series called Spotlight 15, where teaching artists lead 15-minute sessions on topics ranging from warming up the body to vocal coaching.

These activities help foster essential lifelong skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and self-expression. Through this advocacy, the Trust supports the statewide community of high school musical theater artists, teachers and families.

Spotlight Education is made possible with generous support from PNC Bank and Sun Country Airlines. Hennepin Theatre Trust's representation at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (the Jimmy Awards) is funded by United Properties.

The Trust will continue to adapt its programming schedule per State of Minnesota recommendations and guidelines for the well-being of audiences, staff, cast and crew. Additional updates will be provided at HennepinTheatreTrust.org/updates.

Hennepin Theatre Trust drives cultural and economic vitality in Minnesota through leadership of the dynamic Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis and educational programming that reaches every area of the state. Its historic theatres - Orpheum, State and Pantages - and event center at 900 Hennepin Avenue light up Hennepin Avenue with top-tier entertainment, including the best of Broadway and a wide variety of arts programming. Hennepin Theatre Trust is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Learn more at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.


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