Jimmy Award Nominees Share Empowering Meetings With Stephen Schwartz and Billy Porter in Second Blog Entry

The 6th Annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards, will take place June 30. Nominees Keenan Buckley and Emma Magbanua blog about their week in New York City and their journey to the Jimmys.

From June 25-July 30, 56 teenagers — who hail from 31 regions across the United States — prepare for the 2014 National High School Musical Theater Awards, which will take place at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre hosted by Ryan McCartan, the 2011 Jimmy Award winner who recently starred as JD in the Off-Broadway musical Heathers and appears on Disney's "Liv & Maddie."

Throughout the week students meet with seasoned Broadway performers and creative artists, attend vocal coachings and rehearsals to stage this year's ceremony, where they will perform and represent musical theatre competitions (where they were previously presented with an award for their performance in their high school production) sponsored by professional theatre organizations in cities across America. A panel of judges determines the recipients of the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress awards.

Keenan Buckley and Emma Magbanua represent the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards in Millburn, NJ, for their respective performances as Julian Marsh in 42nd Street and Kim in Miss Saigon.

Buckley and Magbanua continue to update Playbill.com with an exclusive blog that takes readers behind the scenes and into the rehearsal rooms.

Click here for the first blog entry with Buckley and Magbanua

Keenan Buckley

Keenan Buckley: June 26

Well, day number two of the Jimmy Awards was a total smash!

We started out the day by finishing the vocals to our opening number and then heading off to our coaching group — to work on our medley group numbers. I walked up the grandiose staircase of the Tisch building and into Studio Four to find out that the outstandingly accomplished and talented Krystal Joy Brown was my coach.

I stood in awe for a few seconds trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was in such an incredible environment and about to learn from such an accomplished Broadway performer. After I performed my songs for Krystal, I headed downstairs to attend my medley group. Just hearing everyone in my group gave me shivers. I felt so exhilarated to be in such a nurturing environment with so many other incredibly talented people.

After my medley session, I went to lunch to get some food and listen to a true master talk about the business. I was so surprised when I met Mr. Stephen Schwartz; he was so grounded and down to earth. Additionally, he is so incredibly knowledgeable about this craft and what it takes to be successful in the business. I'm going to paraphrase him: About 50 percent of you being successful in musical theatre is the work that you put into making yourself as good as you can possibly be — keep studying and training. However, the other 50 percent is luck, and you can't get down on yourself if you don't succeed. But, if doing this is what you love, in the end it will pay off.  Hearing those words from someone as accomplished as Mr. Schwartz inspired me so much. It makes me want to push myself, work harder and achieve my dreams. After we took a group photo with Mr. Schwartz, we went back to our coaching sessions where we continued to grow and learn. One of the things that Krystal said that stuck with me was, "The casting directors, or directors want to see what you bring to the table… What's important in an audition is that they see you." When she said that, I felt like something just clicked with me, like I had just had an epiphany. 

When our coaching sessions ended, we got into our dress attire and headed out to Sardi's, where we received some amazing food and some amazing Broadway history from a representative of the Shubert Organization. When our meals were finished, we went onto the streets of New York City and made our way to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre to catch the evening performance of Kinky Boots, starring Tony Award winner Billy Porter.

The show was amazing. It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most importantly it made me think. The show is not just about having a good time and going to listen to some great Broadway songs, it is about accepting people for who they are, and transforming people who are unable to do that. It was an extremely powerful performance. I will never forget when Billy sang "Not My Father's Son." He truly touched with the integrity of his performance.

After the cast took the bows, the whole group headed downstairs to have a talkback with some of the members of the Kinky Boots cast. I sat in the front row, and little did I know that the incomparable Billy Porter himself would grace the stage one last time. I sat in my seat with my jaw wide open as a Broadway star sat two feet in front of me. 

Billy and the entire cast who joined us for the talkback were incredible. They were so truthful and honest. Sitting there, I was reaffirmed of why I want to go into musical theatre. This is an amazing start to an amazing week, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. 

Emma Magbanua

Emma Magbanua: June 26

Although it feels like day five, it is day two, and I am holding to the knowledge that hard work pays off.

Today was jam packed from 8 AM-10:30 PM. By 8 o'clock the 56 nominees were at Tisch downing a breakfast before the long day — most unknowing of what to expect. Although fully planned, it was a day of surprises in what we would experience.

After breakfast, we headed to yoga. Through yoga, we learned to focus and ground ourselves, but we also learned the phrase "Namaste," which we all said ending the class, "I honor you." It was a moment of respect for all those around you — although this is a competitive event, it is also a place of art and education.

Next, we proceeded in learning the intense opening number. By  intense I mean, buy tickets because you can just watch  that, be satisfied and leave. (Just kidding, buy tickets then stay the entire time because the medleys and solos and closing number are all awesome, too!)

That rehearsal was followed by everyone departing for different rooms. We divided and conquered. While a medley was being worked on, the other contestants would be with a group and a vocal coach. I, personally, had the honor of being coached by Andréa Burns. Each contestant presents two songs to his or her coach, and the coach picks the song that will be presented to the judges on Sunday (AHHHH!). 

Thankfully, each coach is well equipped to better each contestant's understanding and delivery of his or her chosen piece. It is also in these coaching sessions that you have a "Wow, wow, wow, wow" moment. It was here that it finally hit me, "I'm at nationals. Everyone here is phenomenal. PHENOMENAL." 

At 11:40 AM, I headed down to work on Medley 3, the medley my character, Kim from Miss Saigon, appears! The entire piece of multiple characters from different shows is inventive and enticing, and the medley rehearsals are what many look forward to in their busy day.

We then had lunch with Stephen Schwartz. I repeat: We had lunch with Stephen Schwartz. Yes, it was wonderful. 

After going back to coaching, we changed into nice dresses and suits and headed to Sardi's. Mmm. Yes, it was wonderful.

We then took a walk over to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre to watch Kinky Boots. "You can change the world when you change your mind."

We were given the opportunity to participate in a talkback with the cast. We not only got to see Billy Porter's beautiful legs, but also see a glimpse of his beautiful soul. He and the rest of the cast and crew reminded us of how lucky we are and that theatre is a gift. We have the power to entertain, but also the power to bring forth a message.

Hard work pays off.