by Morgan Smith
Elaborate costume design, clean choreography and outstanding set construction are only several factors that go into a great play. Throw in superb acting, bold student orchestras and talented singers and you may have yourself a hit.
And now, many area students have the chance to see who did it best, thanks to Blumenthal Performing Arts, where 20 local schools are participating in the inaugural event.
But that’s not necessarily the case for Paula Baldwin and her students at Independence High School. Their participation in the program is more about the publicity for their school. They’re just happy to have a theater program and a musical to perform.
“This is my first year at Independence High School and I’m putting a lot of effort into rebuilding the theater program that was almost non-existent in recent years,” Baldwin said. “It’s probably been 12 years since they’ve done a musical and for several years, they didn’t have a theater teacher.”
Baldwin, who previously taught at Mint Hill Middle School for eight years, was happy to take on the challenge of rebuilding the program, especially since Mint Hill Middle is a feeder school to Independence. Now, she’s able to teach many of her previous students.
Independence already has performed several shows this year – every single one sold out. With so many successful shows, the group raised enough money to order new sound equipment and has hopes for future improvements to their facilities at the school.
“Our auditorium needs a facelift too, but little by little, we’ll get it done,” Baldwin said.
But of course, Baldwin and her students are still in it to win it.
With a traveled road marked with success, Baldwin thought entering her students’ February production of “Grease” in the Blumey Awards would be a perfect way to spread excitement in her students, while also creating some friendly competition. The group was the first school to have their musical viewed and evaluated by judges, and the only Matthews and Mint Hill area school to enter in the competition.
Each school’s musical is viewed and evaluated by a panel of three judges from the Charlotte theater community. The judges award points according to detailed guidelines, nominating six finalists each for 13 different categories of awards, from Best Actor and Best Actress, to Best Lighting Execution and the top spot of Wells Fargo Best Musical Award. Wells Fargo is sponsoring the competition.
At the end of each school’s performance, judges nominated students for individual awards to put up against students at other participating schools. At Independence, Maryiel Butler and Izzy Golden are both up for Best Supporting Actor, and Marissa Plondke as Best Featured Performer. Lead actor and actress Danny Quach and Hannah Coffman are up for Best Actor and Best Actress.
Schools will receive official feedback from judges April 27, where they’ll find out the top six nominations out of all schools. A formal awards ceremony will be held May 20 at the Belk Theater and will feature performances by the six finalists for Best Musical, as well as medley performances by the six finalists for Best Actor and Best Actress. Tickets will go on sale in early May and are $15 for students, $20 for teachers and $30 for adults.
The two students awarded Best Actor and Best Actress will receive an all-expenses-paid trip and weeklong stay in New York City where they will train and compete with other regional winners in a national competition known as The Jimmy Awards.
“I think the band has a really good chance; I think the overall production has a really good shot,” Baldwin said. “I’m sure out of all the budgets ours was probably one of the smallest, but they kind of judge it according to what you have and what you can afford.”