January marks the start of awards season in Hollywood, and for the first time in Keller, statues will be given for outstanding dramatic and comedic performances, too.
On Jan. 16, the inaugural production of The Kelley Awards will pay homage to Broadway’s Tony Awards — literally, as “Kelley” is a combination of “Keller” and “Tony” — by recognizing students in a variety of theatrical categories.
Presented at *Timber Creek High School’s Fine Arts Center, the show will bring together each of the district’s four high schools and feature performances from their fall semester musicals. Students will be nominated for awards, just as in the Tonys, and winners will receive recognition and statues.
The idea for the awards came last summer, when Keller ISD theater faculty gathered to write new curriculum for their programs. In the process, they hatched a plan to unite students, families and fans with a winter event of performances — and some friendly competition.
“The benefit students get is to celebrate musical-theater excellence together,” says Ann Accas, theater teacher at Central High School.
While some KISD theater programs participate on a regular basis in area competitions like Casa Manaña’s Betty Lynn Buckley Awards, other schools don’t go to contests, often because of financial constraints. Kim Blann, the district’s director of fine arts, says she liked the idea of the contest because it will give students more opportunities for feedback and interaction.
Awards will be given in 18 categories, including best actor and actress, excellence in scenic design, sound design, lighting and choreography, publicity and best musical. Nominees will be announced early this month. On the night of the program, the fine arts department will host a dinner for participating students.
On with the Show
The modern high school musical is a big undertaking, typically involving 50 to 100 students and thousands of dollars for costumes, sets, lights and more. Production rights, along with scripts and scores, can run $3,000 to $6,500, depending on the age of the show and the number of performances.
The fine arts department gives each school funds toward an annual musical. Schools also save money from the previous year’s ticket sales and booster club fundraisers. A newer trend is getting local businesses to sponsor productions in exchange for credit in the program and in promotional materials, Blann says.
Central’s theater department, which staged Legally Blonde: The Musical in December, used funds from the fine arts department to help purchase costumes and enhance sound.
About 70 students participated in the cast, pit orchestra and crew.
Vonya Eudy, theater teacher at Fossil Ridge High School, says that about 60 students were involved in her department’s late September-early October production of Shrek The Musical.
These types of shows often allow kids outside the theater department an opportunity to get involved, she says. For instance, a lot of choir students participate, and an assistant choir director helps coordinate the show.
More than 100 students participated in West Side Story, staged at Timber Creek High School in December — about 44 in the cast and another 68 in the crew.
“There are so many opportunities,” says Timber Creek theater teacher Amanda Brundrett. “We try to involve as many kids as we can.”
Students do it all, from running the show as stage manager to hanging lights, building sets, running sound, doing hair and makeup to working concessions, ticket sales and publicity as part of the “front of the house crew.”
Melissa Freeman, Keller High School drama teacher, says about 60 students were involved on a daily basis in producing the school’s Halloween season show, The Addams Family Musical.
“They learn a lot of skills that are valuable in the workplace,” Freeman says. “Collaboration, using creativity and innovation to build things with limited resources, learning to take constructive criticism and solve problems on the fly.”
Timber Creek junior Daniel Nkoola says he learned teamwork as part of the cast in West Side Story.
“It’s very much a collaborative art form,” Nkoola says. “When the production is completed and you show it to people, you have pride as a group that is greater than individual pride.”
Keller High sophomore Ryan Lee and junior Sam Walker built sets for The Addams Family Musical. Walker also designed and ran the lighting while Lee had a role on stage. Before the theatrical experience, Walker says he knew how to use a drill but didn’t know much else.
“I’d never built something like an 8-foot platform that people would walk and dance on,”he says. “And I knew nothing about lights.”
Lee says, “I went from zero experience to using most of the tools we have.”
Timber Creek’s Brundrett says, “There’s nothing like the experience of being in a production. You see it go from nothing to a full-fledged production that they’re really proud of. There’s nothing like it.”
The Kelley Awards
7 p.m. Jan. 16
Timber Creek High School
12350 Timberland Blvd.
Tickets: $15, available at the door.