BY MELISSA WISTEHUFF
There’s no business like show business! Durham Performing Arts Center’s Triangle Rising Stars program annually celebrates outstanding achievements in high school musical theater as part of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.
The program honors local performers and teachers, as well as costume designers, orchestras, and lighting and set designers. This year, stars from regional high schools will converge on May 18, when 20 finalists will compete to win two main awards: Best Performance by an Actress and Best Performance by an Actor.
Winners of Triangle Rising Stars move on to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the Jimmy Awards, which were named for the late Broadway impresario James M. Nederlander.
Administered by The Broadway League Foundation since its inception in 2009, the program has awarded more than $5 million in educational scholarships—not to mention national exposure—to deserving young performers. The program inspired a PBS documentary called “Broadway or Bust” in 2012, which follows students on their journey from hometown competitions—such as Triangle Rising Stars—to their debut on a Broadway stage at Minskoff Theatre in New York City.
Last year’s winners of Triangle Rising Stars, Symoné Spencer of Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh and Joshua Thompson of Weaver Academy in Greensboro, will perform at this year’s Triangle Rising Stars competition.
Both Spencer and Thompson went on to become Jimmy Awards finalists last year, ranked in the top four nationally for their respective categories. Thompson was also named winner of the “Spirit of the Jimmys Award” for embodying the spirit of musical theater.
“Being announced as one of the top finalists for Best Performance by an Actor last spring is a memory I will cherish, and I’m grateful that the exposure gained me respect for my art,” Thompson says.
“I’d been praying for that moment, and getting to perform my solo on a real Broadway stage for thousands of people made my dreams come true in ways I never knew they would.”
Spencer echoes Thompson’s sentiments. “Winning Triangle Rising Stars allowed me to remember that, as an artist, the connections you build and the process you allow yourself to have throughout each chapter of your life defines who you become in the end,” she says.
Elena Holder of Durham School of the Arts was the 2021 Triangle Rising Stars Best Actress. She went on to become the Jimmy Awards winner of Best Performance by an Actress. “Being involved in Triangle Rising Stars changed my life in more ways than I can count,” Holder says. “It allowed me to become so much more involved in the North Carolina theater community, and I was able to find an even bigger community at the Jimmy Awards,” she continues.
Winners of the Jimmy Awards receive $25,000 in scholarships, and are invited to audition for multiple Broadway shows. After winning “Best Performance by an Actress” at the Jimmy Awards, Holder had multiple opportunities to network professionally and audition for projects across the nation. “I can’t emphasize enough how important programs like Triangle Rising Stars are,” she says. “They do so much for arts education and for the future careers of young artists.”
Local celebrity and Leesville Road High School theater alumnus Clay Aiken has been the Triangle Rising Stars ceremony host since 2019. “Growing up in Triangle schools, the school theater department was really my only opportunity to perform or to learn about performing,” he says of his Raleigh high school. “Had it not been for these incredible performing arts programs, I don’t think I would have ever even realized how much I love singing.”
With the success of recent winners, this year’s ceremony will surely be thrilling. “I guarantee you there are future Grammy, Tony, Oscar and Golden Globe winners coming through the Triangle Rising Stars program,” Aiken says.
Read more stories from around the Triangle at Midtownmag.com.
North Carolina Theatre Clinics
North Carolina Theatre’s in-school clinics are a way for school theater directors to bring in professional teaching artists who use personalized rubrics and adjudication sessions to assist students. The clinics connect student performers to professional acting directors, music directors and choreographers who offer valuable perspectives on the various elements of theater.
These clinics have assisted school theater programs competing in Triangle Rising Stars, the Junior Theater Festival, the NCTC High School Play Festival and the NC Thespian Festival.
Learn more at nctheatre.com/page/schools.
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