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Stars of tomorrow: Jester Awards recognize young performers

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Friday, April 25, 2014, at 4:41 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, April 26, 2014, at 10:29 p.m.

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If you go

13th Annual Jester Awards

What: Awards for theater excellence in Kansas high schools

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $10, 316-265-3107, also available at the door

Information: www.mtwichita.com

The Jester Awards are tailor-made for Wichita kids like Timothy TV Cao, Stevie Ann Mack, Faith Northcutt and Edward Sturm.

Launched in 2002 through the efforts of Belden Mills, longtime board member of Music Theatre of Wichita, the awards recognize and encourage talented youngsters in Wichita and south central Kansas, says Angela Trotter.

“Our judges look for excellence both on stage and backstage,” says Trotter, who has worked with the awards for five years and been in charge of them the past two. “There are 23 categories that cover everything from performance to costumes to technical to lobby displays. We want to encourage all aspects of theater.”

Teens like Timothy, Faith, Stevie and Edward have made names for themselves not only in their individual schools, Trotter says, but also in other theater venues, including professionally, both locally and as far away as New York and California.

The annual ceremony to honor these rising stars will be at 7 p.m. Friday in the Orpheum Theatre. After recipients in the 23 categories are revealed, the top production will be named along with one male and female performer, who will receive $2,000 cash scholarships.

There are 41 schools in the running for Jesters – named after the beloved sculpture in front of Century II Concert Hall – from Garden City on the west, to Hays and Salina on the north to Independence on the east.

Nominees are determined by a panel of about 85 volunteer judges drawn from the community, including theater teachers, performance professionals and arts patrons, who fan out across the state to see the plays and performers in action.

“We like to have several judges at each show, and we need so many because most of the plays happen simultaneously on two weekends – one in the fall and one in spring – when there are no sporting events,” Trotter says.

Judges rate performances and shows from 1 to 10, and officials tally up the results numerically to decide the recipients.

“We use the word ‘recipient’ rather than ‘winner’ because there may be multiple awards in various categories, depending upon the numbers,” says Wayne Bryan, Music Theatre’s producing artistic director. “We are recognizing a lot of outstanding work, not just singling out one ‘best.’ 

The four teens profiled here were selected by Music Theater officials as representative of the nominees that embody the Jester Awards ideals. A complete list of the nominees is at www.mtwichita.com.

Timothy TV Cao

Wichita native, age 12, son of Hai and Orelle Cao, one older sister.

School and activities: Discovery Intermediate School sixth-grader, participates in various sports like soccer, gymnastics, badminton and baseball. “I’m sort of a sensitive guy, but I’d like to try football. My mother says I’d just get beat up. I like to be active so I just started parkour (free-running), and I’m really sore right now. But it will help me with stunt work and jumping over things on stage.”

Non-theater factoid: His middle name – TV (pronounced TeeVee) – is a combination of his sister (Taniece) and father (middle name, Van) so that he will always be reminded, as his mother says, of his family connections.

Theater experience: “I started dancing at age 3. I was failing a hearing test so the doctor told my mother to get me involved in something with music. She enrolled me in dance class. I didn’t start singing until the fifth grade.” He first appeared as a prince in “Aladdin” for Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center while a second-grader, then with Music Theatre for Young People, Crown Uptown and Music Theatre of Wichita, where he has been cast in “South Pacific” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this summer. He also has been offered the role of Artful Dodger in “Oliver!” at the Pershing Square Theatre in New York City in June.

Favorite roles: Prince Chulalongkorn in “The King and I” for Music Theatre of Wichita, Sir Henry in “Once Upon a Mattress” for Music Theatre for Young People.

Dream role: “Nothing specific, but I’d like to be in ‘Cats’ because I’m a pretty good dancer. Right now, I also like ‘Matilda.’ I’ve been listening to the music every single day, and every day I still hear something new. It catches me off guard.”

Future plans: “I’d like to do theater as a career. When I perform, when I dance, I feel free. Doing it for an audience gives me happiness. But if that doesn’t happen, I want to open my own dance studio. I like jazz and, particularly, lyrical because there is more story-telling and more emotion.”

Stevie Ann Mack

Wichita native, just turned 18, daughter of Tom and Valerie Mack, one younger brother who she says is “the funniest person I know.”

School and activities: Trinity Academy graduating senior, Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen 2012, assistant dance instructor at Kansas Dance Academy, four summers at Rockettes dance invitational in New York, just returned from international dance meet in Los Angeles where she was invited to tour with show choir Young Americans.

Non-theater factoid: Collects Rockettes ornaments and has about 50 of them suspended over her bed “so I can see them for inspiration when I wake up.”

Theater experience: Started dance at age 3. “I don’t think I had much of a choice, but I can’t imagine doing anything else now.” Her mother – “My biggest fan and my biggest critic” – taught her tap, her favorite form of dance. Child performer for several years for Music Theatre of Wichita. Dance captain and choreographer for shows at several local high schools.

Favorite roles: Cheerleader in “High School Musical 2” at Music Theatre of Wichita, Babette in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at Trinity Academy, will be an intern this summer tapping like crazy in “42nd Street” for Music Theatre.

Dream role: Cassie in “A Chorus Line.”

Future plans: She will be a scholarship dance student at Pace University in New York City this fall, one of only 18 female freshmen in the selective program. “This is a huge honor and New York is the perfect place to start. I’m more of a New York person than a Los Angeles person. I want to have a performing career. I want to be on Broadway. But then I want to have my own dance studio or start my own dance company to pass my love of dance on to the next generation, like my mother did for me.”

Faith Northcutt

Wichita native, age 15, daughter of Jim and Jana Northcutt, two older sisters.

School and activities: East High freshman, plays clarinet and oboe for East High Band, on dance team, part of the IB program.

Non-theater factoid: Participates in target archery.

Theater experience: Started performing in kindergarten because “It looked like fun singing and dancing, and then I got hooked.” Has performed with many local groups, including Music Theatre for Young People, Scottish Rite Signature Theatre, Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center, Crown Uptown Theatre and Music Theatre of Wichita where she was an intern last summer participating in ensembles for “Mary Poppins” and “The King and I.” She will be with Music Theatre again this summer in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Favorite roles: Young Cosette in “Les Miserables” for Music Theatre of Wichita, Susan the precocious granddaughter in “White Christmas” for Crown Uptown.

Dream role: Eponine in “Les Mis.” But she’d also like to do something with “Wicked” and “Legally Blonde.” “I love the energy and the attitude of those shows.”

Future plans: Looking at University of Michigan and University of Oklahoma because both have “great theater programs.” “I’d like to do theater after high school. That’s my main goal. Singing, dancing and acting are three things I love to do and this is where I can put them all together. Dancing is probably my strongest suit right now, but I love singing and acting, too. I like to be in front of people. I like to tell stories.”

Edward Sturm

Born in Alabama, age 12, lived in Ohio and Arkansas before moving to Wichita in second grade, son of Tim and Beth Sturm, one younger sister.

School and activities: Independent School sixth-grader, plays trombone in school band, member of math club, participates in track and field.

Non-theater factoid: Competitive swimmer in Kansas and Indiana, swims year round at Wichita Swim Club.

Theater experience: As a first-grader, selected to be one of the orphans in an Ohio high school production of “Oliver!” “I had seen a kids show before and it looked like so much fun that I really wanted to try it. I was one of the kids pulled from the community to be in the high school show.” Since moving to Wichita, he’s performed with Music Theatre of Wichita, Music Theatre for Young People and Crown Uptown Theatre. “I started with Music Theatre as part of the boys band in ‘The Music Man.’ I knew it was a long shot but I went to an open call. They needed a lot of boys that year so I got into the ensemble.” This summer, he’ll be in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for Music Theatre.

Favorite roles: Michael Banks in “Mary Poppins” for Music Theatre, Little Jake in “Annie Get Your Gun” for Crown Uptown.

Dream role: “I love ‘Les Mis’ so being Valjean would be awesome.”

Future plans: “I don’t know if theater will be my career. That would be pretty awesome, but I haven’t really given it serious thought yet. I know you have to be a triple-threat. Singing is what I do the most, but I’m doing a lot more dancing now because of the Kansas Dance Academy. When I was younger and thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I changed my mind every week. I don’t have anything else in mind right now. I do know that I’ll always love theater. It will always be part of my life.”

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