As the Jimmy Awards Approach, High Schoolers Tell How Broadway Pros Are Preparing Them For the Future

News   As the Jimmy Awards Approach, High Schoolers Tell How Broadway Pros Are Preparing Them For the Future
The 7th Annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards, will be held June 29. Nominees Audrey McKee and Alec Michael Ryan blog about their week in New York City and their journey to the Jimmys.

Audrey McKee
Audrey McKee

Now in its seventh year, 52 high school student finalists have been selected from across the U.S. to perform in the ceremony at the Minskoff Theatre, currently home to the Broadway musical The Lion King. Sutton Foster will host.

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 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.

Audrey McKee and Alec Michael Ryan represent The Tommy Tune Awards in Houston, TX, for their respective performances as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins and Laurence Jameson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

McKee and Ryan will continue to update with an exclusive blog that takes readers behind the scenes and into the rehearsal rooms.

Read their first blog, "The Beginning of My Future," here

Audrey McKee: June 25

Day 2 is through!

We started off our morning bright and early with a filling breakfast and a great chat with our fellow nominees. From there, we headed off to NYU's Frederick Loewe Theatre, where we warmed up with a bit of yoga. Stretching and feeling centered really helped me release the tension I was feeling after our long day of traveling and settling in yesterday. Our phrase of the day was "staying open" — we were challenged to open ourselves up to new opportunities, learning and having fun! 

We finished off the morning by completing the opening number (which is incredible, if I do say so myself). I love singing songs that inspire and excite the audience, and trust me, this one gives you chills. We then broke off to our solo voice coaching groups. I am being led by the ever-so-talented Julia Murney. Her presence alone, as she entered the room and greeted us with a warm hello, made me feel all-the-less nervous. We ran our two song choices (each nominee was asked to prepare two songs in advance), and she gave us her personal opinion about which song we should choose based on the way she believed it showcased our individual talent.

I could not believe that I was singing in front of, and being coached by, someone who is so prominent in the theatre industry. As if just being here wasn't already a dream come true! When we were all finished running through our songs, Julia opened the floor to questions. Hearing her discuss her personal experiences and the many lessons she has learned from being involved in the world of musical theatre opened my eyes to the realities of the business.

As a young actress, I've heard all of the clichés about trying to make it in the competitive and cut-throat realm of acting — I've been warned about not having work for long periods of time, and I've heard of the disappointments every actor or actress must face when they are not chosen for a role they desperately sought out. But I've also been encouraged to remember the satisfying and rewarding feeling that comes from pushing through all of the hardships of the business, and hearing about Julia's journey through all of the good and the bad was life changing. She described how, at times, you might question why you are in this business, but you just have to remember to get back up and move on. 

As I reflected on her powerful testimony, I couldn't help but think of something Tommy Tune said in an interview with ABC News. He said, "If you love something else [besides theatre], do it. But if you have this yearning and this drive knowing that you can't possibly do anything else in this world but [theatre], then go for it." This was the essence of the message that Julia conveyed to us as she told us her story. I felt reassured that knowing even my idols in musical theatre go through periods of time with disappointments. Musical theatre is like a climb to the top of Mount Everest, in the words of Julia!

At lunch we had a special talk from Mr. Frank Wildhorn. He has done so many amazing things, and it was so touching to hear from him. He is so genuine and humble, with a true passion for what he loves. Soon after lunch, I set off to work on my medley, which was beautifully arranged by the wonderful Michael Moricz. Everyone's passion and talent shines through their individual characters. We are fortunate to be singing some of the greatest songs in musical theatre!

We met up with Julia again to continue work on our solo songs. Watching her work was so incredible. She has such an eye for detail and is able to explain things in a way that truly helps you visualize what kind of look the industry is searching for. 

Next was dinner and a show, meaning a trip to Sardi's and An American in Paris! There are very few words that I can use to describe An American in Paris other than "visually spectacular." The actors were true triple threats — singers, actors and dancers. The dancing actually took my breath away. Each movement was meticulously thought out, each leap was executed perfectly, each extension was completed with such precision, every point was curled to perfection. I can honestly say this was the best Broadway show I have ever seen. This wasn't your every day Broadway show — it was filled with intricate dance numbers that required no lyrics from the mouth. The lyrics were simply told through the story that the performers conveyed to the audience in the form of dance. It was a simple story of love mixed with elements that were witty, sexy and touching, reflecting the true passion of art. 

Just when I thought the night couldn't get any better, we had the chance to meet and speak with the cast. Meeting Max von Essen, one of the supporting leads, was unbelievable (and getting his autograph was pretty great, too). Seeing the cast post-show, up close and personal, was just the icing on top of a phenomenal day. It may only be the end of day two of the Jimmy's, but this trip has already been more than a dream come true!

Alec Michael Ryan
Alec Michael Ryan

Alec Michael Ryan: June 25

Day 2 of the dazzling event that is the Jimmy Awards…

After waking up to the sight of the Empire State Building, my roommate and I showered, made ourselves beautiful (sarcasm) and went downstairs to meet the other participants. After all of the tired musical theatre students stumbled downstairs, we made our way to the Tisch building at NYU to begin the day's festivities.

Walking down the city streets lit up those tired, groggy faces, and the sidewalk was full of eager students ready to see what the day had in store for us. Upon arriving at the theatre, we ate breakfast. I had a bagel with cream cheese (obligatory) and a banana. Also, a small cup of coffee. Were it not for that last item, I would not be conscious writing this blog right now. After the light and healthy breakfast, we had our daily warm up, which consisted of yoga, stretching and relaxation exercises. We were told that everyday we would receive a "yoga term of the day" (YTD), which we must keep in mind while we go throughout our packed schedule of rehearsals.

Today's YTD was being "open" — essentially, not closing off physically or emotionally. In order to discover, we must trust and try new things. Now that we have awakened our pores, and a small sweat was beginning to break, we moved to the main rehearsal space to begin choreographing the opening number. It was very tedious, but we made progress and had a blast.

After the short window of time reserved for the opening number, we split up into either a medley group or our individual solo coachings. I am in Medley Three, so I was able to spend some time on my solo with my group. The vocal coach I was assigned is the amazing, beautiful and talented Eden Espinosa. Being in her presence was a gift in and of itself. We all sang from our repertoire, picked the best one for us and began work. She gave incredible insight and created a constructive and supportive environment that we could all feel safe in, take chances and make choices, which brought out some beautiful moments that truly showcased the talent that is here in New York… And not just on Broadway.  

In between that, we had our lunch, which was pleasantly interrupted by Frank Wildhorn. He shared with us how he started in this business and answered questions from when he wrote Jekyll & Hyde to why he had just flown in from Seoul, Korea, nine hours prior. It was a wonderful lunch with a surprise from one of Broadway's greatest composers.

After our Q&A we went back and continued working on our solos. After a few more hours of work, we all got fancied up and took the bus to Sardi's! We enjoyed a beautiful meal and then made our way to the Palace Theatre, where we saw one of the most beautiful shows on Broadway (in my opinion)… An American in Paris. It was one of the most stunning productions I have EVER seen. The talent on the stage tonight and every night at the Palace is astounding. From Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope to Scott Willis and Veanne Cox, every word spoken, song sung and dance danced was stunning. I am still in awe of what I just witnessed.

But the magic didn't stop there. After the show we were lucky enough to sit in a talkback with the cast. Seeing the huge, grand characters on stage and then having a person-to-person/artist-to-artist conversation was so thrilling. Not only are they among the most talented individuals in New York, merging song, dance and acting in perhaps the most graceful fashion I have witnessed, but they are humble and down to earth.

After the talkback we parted ways and once again boarded the bus to head back to our dorms and snag some sleep. In fact, as soon as I type these last remaining sentences, I am going to lay my head back and indulge in a small nap on the bus.

What a wonderful day it has been here in the Big Apple. Until tomorrow! Stay tuned. Goodnight, friends.

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