High School Musical Nominations Out!

In the theatre awards' second year, 26 area schools earn noms

While the old cowboys were upstairs chowing down on biscuits and sausage, the young thespians were downstairs enjoying a different kind of breakfast treat: the nominations for the second Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Students dressed to the nines for last year's GAHSMTA ceremony. (Courtesy of The Long Center)

The awards – a joint project by the Long Center, Zach Theatre, and the University of Texas College of Fine Arts – were created to throw a public spotlight on the exceptional work being done on the region's high school stages, work that rarely earns attention beyond the families and friends of the student artists. Nineteen schools across Central Texas took part in the debut year, and the response was so positive that 26 schools applied in 2014.

That meant even more high schoolers packed into the Long Center's Rollins Theatre at 7am for the big announcement, and not even the tantalizing aromas of free brisket, pancakes, and catfish toes from Rodeo Austin's Cowboy Breakfast, held this year on the center's City Terrace, could tempt them away from the nominations event. These were some seriously committed teen thespians.

Not that I needed to be told. I had witnessed that commitment myself as one of the evaluators – educators and theatre professionals, for the most part – who saw, scored, and wrote constructive critiques of the productions under consideration this year and last. No matter what the show was or where – Tarzan in Marble Falls, Hairspray at McNeil, or Once Upon a Mattress in Dripping Springs – the students always gave their all.

Now, here they were, eager to hear whose work and which shows had been worthy of recognition. Brett Barnes of the Long Center, Barbara Pope of the costume design program at UT, and Nat Miller, education director at Zach, read the lists of nominees in 15 categories honoring every aspect of production: student performances, musical direction, orchestra, choreography, design, direction, and technical execution. Every school earned at least two nominations, and one-third received at least half a dozen. Taking top honors were the two schools which were the big winners last year: Cedar Ridge High School, which took home the prize for best production for Ragtime, scored 13 nominations for this year's production of Bring It On. Right behind it was James Bowie High School, a multiple award winner for its staging of Miss Saigon last year, received 12 nominations for its production of Evita. Earning 10 nominations each were Leander High School for its version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and St. Andrew's Episcopal School for its version of Sweeney Todd. Dripping Springs High School snagged 9 nominations for its production of Annie Get Your Gun.

A few of the 2013 nominees in a production number at the first GAHSMTA ceremony. (Courtesy of The Long Center)
The awards will be presented during a ceremony in the Long Center's Dell Hall on April 14, and having seen the first one, I have to say it's worth setting aside that night on the calendar – and not just because of how touching it is to see these young people receive what may be the first award they've ever won, the first acknowledgment that they have a talent that might be the basis for a career, but because the productions numbers themselves were spectacular. And I don't use that word casually. Musical numbers from each nominated production, medleys that brought all the nominated lead actors and actresses onstage together, and a finale including a male and female from each participating school. It was thrilling. And my toes are tapping just anticipating what's in store this year.

For more information, visit www.thelongcenter.org.

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Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, Long Center, Zach Theatre, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Nat Miller, Barbara Pope, Brett Barnes

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