Liz Valentin and Felix Torrez represented the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Awards
program last month at The Jimmys/National High School Musical Theater Awards. These two high school students made their Broadway debuts
on the Minskoff stage in New York City and met students from across the country who shared their love of theater and passion for the arts.
We asked them to recap their experience in this Artist Q&A!
What did you enjoy most about participating in the Center Stage Awards at the Fox Cities P.A.C.?
What I liked most about performing at the Center Stage Awards in Appleton was being given the opportunity to meet other students who were equally as passionate about the arts in the state of Wisconsin. The staff, along with the students, were incredibly supportive and wanted us all to succeed and do our best.
What I enjoyed most about participating in the Center Stage Awards at the Fox Cities P.A.C was, above all, just being acknowledged for all the work that goes in to putting on our high school shows. The feeling of being recognized and appreciated for something that you love and pour your heart into rehearsal after rehearsal and show after show, is just such a rewarding feeling. It's a celebration for everyone and an opportunity for all us students from different schools and places to share the beautiful P.A.C stage and perform our hearts out.
One of the coolest parts about The Jimmys is meeting with professional artists and hearing their advice about the industry. What was the best piece of advice you received?
The best piece of advice I was given on my trip was to trust myself and my talent. Because in the musical theater industry we will be turned down for opportunities we want, but it isn’t because we aren’t talented, but because the role is just not meant for us in that moment. And that’s okay!
There was so much good advice and tips throughout the week that it's hard narrowing it down to what I thought was the most influential, but I think if there's something that stuck with me the most, it was a bit of advice we were given on our last day in New York, by famous casting director Rachel Hoffman. Her piece of advice that she offered us was: "In this industry, everyone is talented; nobody can make it without talent, skill and training. So what is going to keep getting you jobs time after time after time, is your reputation. A good reputation is by far the most important thing you can have in the industry." This really struck me because, so often as performers, it's easy to find ourselves in constant competition, and in the mist of feeling like your competing, one can become frustrated and overwhelmed, and in total, lose the passion and love behind what you are doing. When in reality, what people like best is just a kind, genuine person. Being someone who people can work with and can rely on will get you so much further than if you can belt a bit higher than the guy or girl next to you. That's really what it comes down to, and it felt good to know that even after a week of sort of, "competition" I left still feeling like I had met some of the nicest and most genuine people in my life.
The other cool part, of course, is performing on a Broadway stage! Tell us how that made you feel.
Performing on a Broadway stage was inspiring and overwhelming. There was so much emotion when we landed on that stage because we had all experienced so many different walks of life from all over the country, and somehow fate brought us all together and we were all sharing that with one another. There were tears of pride in each other and the work we had done but also in ourselves and the hard work that got each of us there.
The whole week we worked and worked, knowing that ultimately it was to put on a show, on Broadway, yet the real emotions of it all don't hit you until you're actually there...We started the opening number with our backs turned to the audience, and we could already feel the excitement and energy as we ran to our places, with the lights dimmed and the roar of the audience behind us. As the number started, we slowly turned and looked out into the audience. And as soon as I made my turn and looked out, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but I caught focus and snapped back in. The feeling was beyond words, and I still think back to that moment and just smile.
Has this changed the way you feel about theater?
This experience showed me how passionate I am about the arts. From being at the P.A.C. and then going to New York I realized this is what I must do with my life. I am in love with the arts and I can’t imagine my life without the stage and these people who are as passionate as I am. It has reinforced my determination to be a part of the arts and all it has to offer for me.
My week in New York and being a part of the Jimmy's has only given me even more assurance that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I knew I was going to learn a lot and possibly come back with different perspectives. But I love it, and know that now that I got a taste of what it's all like, I'll be back for more.
Has this experience changed anything about the way you feel about yourself?
This experience has humbled me in so many ways, from meeting people who shared difficult upbringings and still persevered and made it to where they are now, to being given housing and care from complete strangers who believed in our passion and wanted us to succeed, I am so grateful for that opportunity because if it weren’t for the efforts of all of these people, we could not have had this experience.
I think this trip taught me a lot about self-worth, always holding yourself to standard and never being discouraged. As long as you know what you're worth, and believe in yourself, no matter what, you'll be fine. Because there will always be people who are better than you, and whether you dwell over that fact, or use it as motivation to improve, it’s really your choice. When you're surrounded by 73 of the best in the country, you simply have to be proud of yourself, what you've accomplished to be there, and to know that the opportunity of being at the Jimmy's wasn't given, it was earned. We are all winners.
Next season the Center will host the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Awards program again. What is your advice for those students?
My advice to the students who are going to be a part of this program next year is to soak in as much as they can! There will be days that you are exhausted so when you go home try and either think about the things you want to remember or write them down to keep them with you. This opportunity is golden, and if you take it and make the most of it you will never regret being a part of it! Also, take risks and audition for solos and let yourself be vulnerable, you will find out so much about yourself if you do. And don’t forget to have fun!
To all those who will go through the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Awards program, I think the best advice I can give you is be humble and stay hungry. Just the fact that you are a part of the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Awards means that you're a star, so just soak it all in and know that it's a celebration for everyone, regardless of any awards given out. "To those who came before us, you're never truly gone, a candle's in the window and the kettle's always on" a quote from the Come From Away
song “Welcome To The Rock”, and verse that we sang in the opener of the Jimmy's. I love that verse because to me it signifies a lot of what I believe the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Awards stands for: togetherness, friendship and celebration.