Founded in 2013 by Mike Fernandez, dean of Lipscomb’s George Shinn College of Entertainment and the Arts, the awards program is presented now in partnership with the nonprofit Tennessee Performing Arts Center and is one of TPAC’s six arts education programs.
Twenty high schools from last year return to the program and join six new schools, including two from East Tennessee, Chattanooga Christian School in Hamilton County and Grace Christian Academy in Knox County.
Mt. Juliet Christian Academy was selected for students’ performance of “Singin in the Rain.”
Starting last fall, participating schools submitted their musicals for review by a diverse group of adjudicators comprised of Lipscomb faculty, TPAC staff and local theater professionals. As they attend and review school productions, adjudicators look for outstanding performances and provide valuable feedback.
The program will culminates May 12 with a full day of workshops on the Lipscomb campus on subjects like improv acting, dance, audition techniques and more, followed by a Tony Awards-style ceremony in TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. There, students from the top 10 schools will perform, and a variety of awards will be presented. Awards will include best actor, best actress, best show, best direction, best choreography, best musical direction, best designs, all-star cast and crew and more.
The Spotlight Awards ceremony is available to the public, and general admission tickets are on sale at tpac.org, by phone at 615-782-4040 and at the TPAC box office at 505 Deaderick St. in Nashville.
“The program seeks to recognize exemplary work from all participating schools,” said Fernandez. “It is also a great opportunity to encourage and to further develop young people who have a passion and talent for acting and performing. In Middle Tennessee, we have a large number of high schools with outstanding theater programs. The rapid growth of this program in just the first five years, indicates there is a great desire by students and teachers to produce top-quality shows while improving their skills.”
TPAC contributes additional resources to the program, including staff support, presenting the awards ceremony and its connection to the Broadway League, through which students chosen as best male actor and best female actor travel to New York and participate in the Jimmy Awards in June. Named in honor of legendary Broadway theater owner and producer, James M. Nederlander, the 10-day program celebrates the most talented high school actors from across the nation.
“Last year’s Spotlight Awards ceremony was one of the most exciting nights in TPAC’s history. I was so moved watching more than a thousand students gathered together, celebrating their hard work and cheering on their peers,” said Kathleen O’Brien, TPAC president and chief executive officer. “We’re so proud to work with Lipscomb University in fostering a supportive community for these talented students and helping them next great leaps in their artistic development.”
Last year’s winners, Nathan Keffer from Ravenwood High School in Brentwood and Hatty King from Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, joined 72 students from 37 regional programs across the country and were among the six finalists to win a $2,500 scholarship from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation.
“My passion for theater comes from a love of telling stories. I’ve come to realize that stories are the quickest way to touch people and reach into their lives,” said King. “Each story can leave someone with a new lesson learned, question to think over or message to inspire. The opportunity to perform with some of the best high school actors in the country was amazing. Being able to spend a week in New York learning from some of the best in theater was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was so honored to win, and I really appreciate how supportive the local theater community and my own personal community has been as a result.”
Tony Award-nominated actor Elizabeth A. Davis, a veteran of the stage and screen, will lead the day of performance workshops May 12 and play host to the Spotlight Awards ceremony. An Innovative Theater Award and NYMF Award winner, Davis has originated 11 roles in plays and musicals and is known for her experience performing diverse roles in Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows and on television.
“I grew up sitting on the steps of my school’s theater as my parents directed the high school play every spring. Finally, when I was old enough to participate, I was fortunate enough to lead our production of ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ to Texas’ highest level of competition, cementing my obsession with this beautiful art form,” said Davis. “High school theater is the reason I am an actor in NYC today, and I am thrilled to join the Spotlight Awards. Our future movers and shakers of the theater are being created in programs exactly like this. It’s my pleasure to encourage students in the synthesis of service and expression.”
A classically trained musician, Davis frequently performs her own music at venues across New York City. She is also a 2016 CFW artist-in-residence and the 2013 young alumni award recipient at Case Western Reserve University.