Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Kids Earn an A+

Something very important happened Monday night at the Palace Theatre. It was here that the Fourth Annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards were given out, and although the import of these awards to the recipients is certainly unarguable, what I’m referring to is the visible, visceral proof that the true measure of the value of education cannot be found simply in grade point averages and standardized test scores.

During the meetings of the awards adjudicators, of which I was one, that led up to the selection of this year’s winners, Brett Bernardini, founding artistic director of Norwich’s Spirit of Broadway Theater and the producer/director of the awards ceremony, returned again and again to the importance of the arts in any high school curriculum, saying that the CHSMT awards were one very important way to draw attention to the immeasurable value derived by students, teachers and the entire community through participation in programs such as the production of a musical play as part of a school’s curriculum. Proof of Bernardini’s beliefs could be seen on the stage and in the audience Monday night.

These are perhaps dispiriting times for public education in the United States, what with funding being slashed, teachers and administrations contending over unionization and tenure, and classroom time more and more taken up with preparing students to take tests than allowing young minds to explore and experience the new, the different and the challenging. However, if one searches for a ray of sunlight in the prevailing gloom, one need look no further than the CHSMT awards.

When was the last time you heard an entire audience erupt, and I mean erupt, in adulation when a teacher’s name was mentioned? It happened again and again on Monday night. When was the last time you heard massed screams of delight and approval as a student stepped on stage to receive an award that had nothing to do with his or her GPA or athletic ability? It happened again and again on Monday night. When was the last time you saw the results of months of dedicated work by students and teachers not quantified by static, dry numbers but rather displayed in artistic, disciplined presentations that exuded not just enthusiasm but sheer joy? Yes, it happened again and again on Monday night.

For anyone – politician, administrator or concerned citizen – to believe that our high school students need only to learn the Pythagorean theorem, the dates of the battle of Gettysburg and what C6H12O6 stands for is to misunderstand the true nature of education, an education that embraces responsibility, dedication, a willingness to accept and act upon constructive criticism, commitment, the camaraderie that arises from working with many people to achieve a shared goal, and the challenge of going beyond your limitations and in the process becoming a better person for having been involved. No grade or test score can measure any of this, but it was impressively made manifest on Monday evening as the cast members of the seven productions nominated for Best Production performed at the Palace Theater. The heart leapt and the mind boggled at the talent and the professionalism of these young people, a talent nurtured and a professionalism taught by the teachers who guided them in the process. Now that’s education!

Congratulations to all of the schools who participated in this year’s awards program. Following is a list of those singled out for their excellence.

Connecticut High School Musical Theater Award Recipients – 2012

Hair & Makeup Achievement
            VRMP Parents, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Ort Pengue Costume Achievement
            Tina Stoddard, VRMP Parents, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Lighting Achievement
            Kevin Gleason, Swet Charity – new Canaan High School

Scenic Achievement
            Janet Spatcher, Nicole Hokansson, Nancy Hayes, No, No, Nanette – Granby High School

Outstanding Direction
            Ingrid A. Walsh, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Choreography
            Frank Root, The Wiz – Trumbull High School

Outstanding Musical Direction
            Melissa Lewis, Ryan Driscoll, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Student Orchestra
            Kurt Eckhardt, Sweeney Todd – Newtown high School

Outstanding Leading Female
            Ali Kramer, Elle Woods – Legally Blonde – Amity Regional High School

Outstanding Leading Male
            Shevance Stephens, Coalhouse – Ragtime – Regional Center for the Arts

Outstanding Supporting Female
            Emily Young, Paulette – Legally Blonde – East Lyme High School

Outstanding Supporting Male
            Mikko Valkonen, Adolopho – The Drowsy Chaperone – Westhill High School

Outstanding Chorus
            Titanic, Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Featured Performer
            Juwan Crawley, Paul – Kiss Me Kate – Fairfield Prep

Outstanding Ensemble Member
            Megan Minucci, Enid – Legally Blonde – East Lyme High School

Outstanding Ensemble Group
            Gabby Bottschall, Annie Strachura, Jenna Bellofiore, Emily Ruchalski, Sarah Tyler, Kaelyn Mostofa – Twister Sisters – The Wiz – Trumbull High School

Outstanding Lobby Display
            Immaculate High School

Outstanding Production of the Year
            Valley Regional High School, Titanic

Achievement in Arts Education
            Plainfield High School

Student Achievement Recipients:
                        Jake Hill - Guilford High School - Stage Management
                        Sloan Churchill - Amity High School - Stage Management
                        Michael DeMattia - New Canaan High School - Student Producer
Lizzy Emond - New Canaan High School - Production Stage
                        Greg St. Germain - Trumbull High School - Lighting Design
                        Annie Lane - Trumbull High School - Assistant Musical Director

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