The music of Broadway will fill the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre tonight as high school students from across Georgia gather for the Fourth Annual Shuler Hensley Awards. Fashioned after the Tony Awards, the Shulers honor excellence in musical theater at the high school level.
Presenters will hand out awards in 15 categories, including achievement in acting, directing, choreography, orchestration, design and technical execution. The six nominees for the final award, Best Overall Production, will perform numbers from their shows as well. Other musical performances will include a medley by nominees in the acting categories and two big production numbers by the Shuler Student Ensemble, which brings together representatives of all the schools participating this year.
For some recipients, the award offers something even bigger. Winners in the lead acting categories will be eligible for the National High School Musical Theater Awards for Best Performance by an Actor and an Actress. Those awards will be handed out this summer during a live broadcast from the Minskoff Theatre in New York.
The ceremony — which will be broadcast live tonight at 8 p.m. by WSB-TV on its MeTV channel (Comcast Channel 248, Charter Channel 126) — is about more than just awards. “On this occasion, high school theater students and teachers from across the state showcase their talents and receive a much-deserved standing ovation from arts professionals, community leaders and adoring fans and families,” says Courtney Reed, director of education and community outreach for the Cobb Energy Centre Foundation. “This program is about celebrating theater and the power behind arts in education.”
The award is named after Shuler Hensley, a Tony Award-winning actor and a native of Marietta. (Hensley is currently on stage in the Alliance Theatre’s “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” the much-anticipated collaboration between Stephen King and John Mellencamp.) “It’s really all about putting the young people in the spotlight and having them feel inspired and rewarded,” Hensley says.
Conceived as an annual showcase for high school theatrical education programs, the awards have grown every year since their inception in 2009 as an initiative of ArtsBridge, the Cobb Energy Centre Foundation’s educational outreach program. More than 40 public and private high schools in 12 Georgia counties participate.
Atlanta-area arts professionals attend performances of the program’s participating schools and act as judges. At the awards show, they evaluate each performance and honor those most deserving of recognition.