The curtain goes up on the Tony Awards Sunday evening, but back in North Texas, high-schoolers just wrapped their own season of musical theater honors.
Teens dubbed best-of-the-best will head to New York this summer to battle for a national theater title. But for these aspiring pros, that’s just a warm-up.
There’s something about high-school theater; some emotional tie that binds, a glimmer of excitement that makes it an after school activity unlike any other.
“It’s really the main thing that I’ve done in high school and I’ve built so many strong connections, almost like family bonds,” says Grapevine High School’s Sarah Roach. “And it’s really something that I fall back on and so it’s a really great support group to have and it’s been something that’s really carried me through.”
Sarah has pretty notable talent supporting her too. Her strong and sultry performance in Chicago scored her the Casa Mañana Buckley Award for Best Female Actor.
Winning guarantees Sarah a trip to New York this summer to compete against 60 other students in the National High School Musical Theater Awards. That includes an intense week of workshops with seasoned pros.
Even though a title and scholarship money is at stake, Sarah’s already looking ahead to college; she plans to study acting at Pepperdine.
Ben Allen, Sarah’s Best Male Actor counterpart, is over the moon about winning his Buckley. He got the nod for his sharp, quirky portrayal of Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts.
Like Sarah, it’s the actor’s life for Ben. He’ll study musical theater this fall at Oklahoma City University. He’s heard his share of unsolicited advice about the hard road ahead, but he won’t be discouraged.
“Because you want to do something you love. You don’t want to do something where you go, ‘wow, I have to do this.’ I don’t remember who said the quote but it was something along the lines of you want to have a job where you don’t like taking vacations from it,” Ben says.
Cameron Wenrich nabbed the Dallas Summer Musicals Best Actor trophy for his charming performance in Curtains. Like his peers at Casa Mañana, the Plano Senior High student knows an acting career isn’t a gimme. He says if it means working two jobs or living with five roommates, well, that’s show business.
“If I can support myself, if I can, you know, afford food and rent by doing something I love, I mean that’s the dream right there,” says Cameron. “So that’s what I’m shooting for.”
So why are these kids so willing to make a go of it when the bright lights of Broadway can be so unforgiving? Dakota Ratliff has a theory. The 4’9’’ powerhouse from Ryan High School was crowned Best Actress by DSM for her turn as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. She says actors are such a magnetic bunch; it’s hard to imagine life without them.
“Everyone involved in the theater department really loves each other, cares about each other and opens up on stage to one another. That’s what I really appreciate, people sharing with each other on stage to tell a story and make people laugh or cry,” Dakato says. “It’s my favorite thing in the world.”
And that’s enough to keep the dream alive. Even if it means surviving on Ramen Noodles and sleeping in shifts until places are called. And who knows? Maybe 10 years from now on Tony night, it’ll be one of these kids taking center stage.
All four students you heard from will compete in the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York on July 1st.
Two other students from North Texas will travel to NYC this summer for a shot at the national title. MacArthur High School’s Sakyiwaa Baah and Bo Graham from Lovejoy High School won Lyric Stage Schmidt and Jones awards to qualify. Click here to learn more about Texas connections to this year's Tony Awards show.