Two Wisconsin High School Students Win Jerry Awards and Advance to NYC for 2019 Jimmy Awards

Two Wisconsin High School Students Win Jerry Awards and Advance to NYC for 2019 Jimmy Awards

Marcus Performing Arts Center and Overture Center for the Arts recently announced that two Wisconsin High School students were selected as Jerry Award ‘Outstanding Leading Performance’ recipients and were selected to advance to the Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (NHSMTA), held in New York City.

Lauren Harkness a junior at Whitewater High School in Whitewater won an ‘Outstanding Leading Performance’ Jerry Award this year for her role as Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Christian Spaay a senior at Marquette University High School also received an ‘Outstanding Leading Performance’ Jerry Award for his role as Marius Pontmercy in Divine Savior Holy Angel’s production of Les Misérables.

Harkness and Spaay qualified for the national program by winning top honors at their regional high school musical theatre awards competitions presented by Broadway League member performing arts centers. Since its inception in 2009, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (NHSMTA) has enabled over $2,000,000 in university and conservatory scholarships to be awarded to talented students at the national and local level—several of whom have already been cast in Broadway, Touring and West End productions.

While in New York, the actress and actor will have 10 days of professional training to prepare for their debut on a Broadway stage. They will be training with the NYU Tisch School of the Arts' New Studio on Broadway faculty members plus with other theatre professionals.

Winners will be selected by a panel of industry experts.

Lauren Harkness

Harkness was used to playing “adult” roles, so when she was given the role of Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, she made sure to make the character was as child-like as she could. She played close attention to every mannerism she made, ensuring she was embodying a child while on stage.

“I tried to do it how a child would act,” said Harkness about her role.

Lauren Harkness playing Olive (#7 contestant) in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. (Picture by Karen Elworthy)

She’s been acting since around kindergarten or first grade and she started because she likes to inspire people. Her goal is to get people interested in the arts since her school’s main focus is on sports.

The arts have shaped her whole life, Harkness said.

“It’s such a big family that we have here,” she said. “It’s like being a part of team but in a different way.” It’s not about competing like sports but supporting one another, she added.

“Everyone should go out and support the arts in their community,” she said.

Everyday Harkness is doing something that involves the arts, whether that’s singing in choir, practicing for choir or doing musicals, she can’t see herself doing anything else.

While in New York, Harkness said she’ll be representing the art world that resides inside of Wisconsin.

“There’s people in any state that can do great things,” Harkness said.

Harkness also wants students across Wisconsin to know that there are opportunities in state for them to pursue arts. Heading to New York to perform on Broadway is something she’s only dreamed of and didn’t actually think would become a reality. But thanks to the support from her family, teammates, school and anyone who’s helped her along the way, she’s more than ready to hit the Broadway stage.

Christian Spaay

Spaay said he started later than others when it came to acting. He acted in his first musical at the end of his sophomore year but look at him now. His role as Marius Pontmercy in in Divine Savior Holy Angel’s production of Les Misérables will be taking him all the way to New York.

“You don’t need to start when you’re super young to be successful,” he said. All that matters is if you have a love for something, how much experience you have doesn’t, he added.

Christian as Murius in the Divine Savior Holy Angel’s production of Les Misérables . (Picture by Ruthann Spaay)

Like many things, Spaay doesn’t want to put too many expectations on this experience because “the opportunity is more than enough…I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” Spaay said about being selected as a Jerry Award recipient.

According to Spaay, he’s a very religious dude who believes God has given him a beautiful voice, which is where his interest in musicals comes from.

“I think it would be a waste of my talent to not use my voice,” said Spaay. “I think that’s what God has put me on this earth to do.”

Through art, acting specifically, he’s able to understand people more.

“The arts really reveals what it means to be a person in the world today,” he said. “It allows you to be empathetic with a lot of people. It’s sort of eye opening to step in another’s person shoes.”

Spaay said he didn’t expect to win a Jerry Award but is very humbled by the honor, and is ready to head to New York.

Harkness and Spaay will be in attendance at the 2019 Jimmy Awards in hopes of winning either the 2019 Jimmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress or Actor. The Jimmy Awards will be held June 24, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at the Minskoff Theatre, 200 W. 45th Street in Manhattan. For more information on the Jimmy Awards, click here. To purchase tickets, click here.

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