Q+A with Center Stage Nominees, Josh and Amelia, on New York Showcase


Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

The Fox Cities P.A.C. Center Stage students traveled to New York to compete in The National High School Musical Theatre Awards® (the Jimmy Awards®) held on June 27.  Amelia Gibbons, a soon to be senior from Green Bay Southwest, and Josh Thone, recent graduate from St. Francis Xavier High School were the two selected to represent the Center.
Amelia was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress for her role as Rosie Mulligan in Southwest’s production of Mamma Mia! Josh was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor for his role as Seymour Krelborn in St. Francis Xavier's production of Little Shop of Horrors. These nominations landed them the opportunity to represent the Center in New York at the national showcase, featuring 90 other students from across the country. 
They left for New York on June 19 and returned on June 28. This week allowed them to train with seasoned Broadway professionals, take in the sights in the Big Apple, and make their Broadway debut on the Minskoff Theatre stage.
Before they left, I was able to sit down and have a chat with the lovely and bubbly performers. Amelia and Josh both expressed just how excited and in shock they were to be going to New York. Out of 140,000 students from 1,800 high schools in 46 regional awards programs across the country, only 92 of them would experience this dream as reality. After I shared these numbers, they expressed the surreal feelings and all the butterflies. Josh ecstatically stated, “Hearing those numbers, there are so many “mes” out there. It’s just a very cool opportunity: ninety-two people sharing the same ambition and drive.”
Amelia mentioned that she was excited to learn and wanted to come out of this experience “with an even stronger love and passion for theater.” Josh was thinking of all the things he needed to pack, but also wanted to give himself “time to sit in it.” He also was very proud to say that he’s from Appleton, Wisconsin.
After returning from New York, Amelia and Josh indulged me for some additional questions on their exciting adventures.
So, you two flew in from New York last night. How are you feeling?
A: We got welcomed back by a group of friends at the airport. So, even though we were tired just getting off the plane, like that kind of excitement of the day, it was nice.
J: it was just insane seeing how you thought you would be so sad saying goodbye, but the feelings you experience carry on for so long. I don’t think I feel any sort of sadness thinking about that because of how happy I was. The laughter and all that love is totally infectious. I think those feelings carry you on for like months…
When you first got to New York and headed over to Juliard and the Minskoff Theatre, what was your reaction?
A: So overwhelming, in the best way possible. [laughing] Especially coming from a small town and going to New York is just a whole different ballgame. But you go in, and as much as you can expect that “big city vibe”, you don’t really feel it until you get there and you’re looking around and suddenly there’s the Minskoff Theatre. [laughing]
J: Seeing all these faces and thinking, “This is it.” From an outward appearance it’s so, almost scary. But you go in there and, “This is just like back home, this is like being in your room, this is like being backstage of your high school theater.” This just feels like another home, just like not in Appleton… They make it so–such a welcoming environment. From the first day, they acknowledged that, “You’re always going to be a part of the New York family” and how we’re all going to grow close to each other, and that was the mantra all week… 
Your schedule was jam packed with rehearsals for long hours during the day. What was that like?
A: I think it was so fun, the kind of busy that theater kids are used to, to some extent. But also, we knew that we were going to be working hard. I think that it was enough of a—it was a good balance… When I look back at it, it wasn’t as scary. I wasn’t sitting there, thinking, “Oh no.” No. Being there, in the moment was so easy in that environment.
J: I would come back after rehearsals, and literally be so tired. I would get back to my room and I would just want to talk with people. [laughing]
A: Exactly. You just want to sit and talk about what you did that day.
J: Yeah, and just get everyone’s insights. When you get on the floor with that group…I talked with the other group, and I talked with yours (Amelia) though, like, “How did your songs go?” It was just very—you think you’re going to be exhausted. Looking at it, it would appear, “Oh my gosh, that’s a lot of stuff!” and we are doing a lot of stuff. But again, it’s what we’ve been wanting to do, to perform, so being there, it feels almost kind of normal to us. The fact that it was so casual, it felt like it was summer camp, but with workouts in the morning. [laughing] It was quite fun.
Everyone there was preparing for the showcase and learning everything within a week’s time. What was the energy like in those spaces?
J: At the end of the day, they understood we’re high schoolers, but we hit all the marks. We had dancers that were dancing since they were two. There were singers I had NEVER heard before in my life. Some were soulful singers; it was a big range. There were so many people there that you look up to, and there was a big tower of support.
A: And there, having such a wide range of people, such a wide range of skill, it’s just so cool. Everyone comes together for one, common goal, and one common shared goal.... I’m going to look back and recognize the camaraderie and the appreciation. I knew I would make friends, but I didn’t expect to connect with people on the level that I did. We made so many close friends that we said goodbye to… It’s so weird that we were all connected in one place, and we’re going to be able to hang on to those emotions.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all work and no play.  You were both able to socialize during the evenings, go out to dinner at Sardi’s, and even take in a Moulin Rouge! The Musical performance starring a Jimmy AwardsÒ alum, Adam Levy, who presented at the awards ceremony! What was that like?
J: I’ve only ever been to the P.A.C (Fox Cities P.A.C.) shows with my mom, or I brought my friends… But going to a Broadway show with musical theater kids all sitting together… Speaking of places that I never thought that at eighteen I would be casually sitting in… it was already insane. Even on our way there, our faces were in Times Square. We just turn the corner and I see “Amelia Gibbons” top right in Times Square, and I’m thinking, “ok, this is how we’re going to play.” I teared up backstage because that moment felt so surreal, and then going to a show right after... You know, it was one of those moments that seemed so silly. It was so luxurious and big, and it honestly matched the energy of what we were going to do. I know we were all just sitting there taking it in and thinking, “What are our lives? This is insane!” We had a talk back after the show and we got to talk to them (Broadway performers). I remember, I raised my hand and asked a question, sitting feet away from these people—We were talking about the Packers in a theater in New York City. It was so cool because this experience was so big and loud. You’d think you’d be overwhelmed, but it was like all our dreams coming true at one time. Especially that day, we went to Sardi’s, Times Square, and Moulin Rouge! The Musical… I was in shock. It wasn’t like it was an overwhelming—it was so supportive… What eighteen-year-old can say they were on a billboard in Times Square, went to Sardi’s…
A: Yeah, it was so cool to take it all in…. There’s so many showstopping moments. Like what you were saying (Josh): everyone has their strengths, and you look for yourself on stage in some aspect. They’re super strong dancers in that show, and the vocals… It was just such a great show for us, like “Oh yeah. This is why—this is why I do it.”
Did they prep you and say, “Hey, you’re going to go see this”?
A: No!
J: No, they didn’t. They tricked us, because we were walking down the street and I was like, “This is a weird way to the” – I don’t know. I’ve been to New York twice. Then I was like, “Oh, they really fooled us.” We had turned left, and our faces are just displayed. They’re flipping through and everyone’s screaming, “Keep going! It’s not even the good angle!” It was so sweet, because in the Jimmy AwardsÒ, they did a montage of videos and there’s one of me and Amelia hugging.
The big night, Monday, June 27, the Jimmy Awards took place at the Minskoff Theatre. The seats in the theater were sold out, and there were two livestream feeds between Facebook and YouTube, so thousands took in the performance whether in-person or through livestream. Can you walk me through what that night was like between the prep, and the performance?
J: Oh my gosh. Well, we were waking into the stage door area in this small, little corridor, and I must say, when we first stepped on stage, it wasn’t like “uhh, my God” it was more of, “Oh, this makes sense. This would be what we’re doing right now.” And just being backstage having the opportunity to tour backstage, and see how the show works backstage…. To me, it was cool. We also were able to get ready in the dressing rooms where the companies and the different ensembles get ready. It was cool when you got into your spot and saw how it all coexists. It was insane being there, on stage of the Minskoff Theater with a lot of people that you already like so much. It was one, big celebration of the work and friendship that we made. And the fact that it (the Minskoff Theatre) was sold out—cause honestly, I would have done that for zero people, or one person, like for my mom and dad…. I was there with all my friends on that stage.
A:  Being backstage and seeing what a Broadway actor’s norm is and going through that experience is such anomaly to us. It felt so odd because of it [laughing]. We were in rehearsal all day before the performance, and it was so insane.            
J: I got to watch everyone perform… We had already made all these friends, so we were watching all our friends up there. Seeing that happen… “I’m so proud of everyone!” Like, “We’re doing this; this is happening!”            
Were there any moments where you were moved by a performance?
J: When I was there, the whole time I was thinking, “Oh, this is actually happening.” But I think at the end, we were on this bright stage… I remember belting out this big ensemble number. I liked that for the final number, there were no solos, there were no singles highlighted. It was just everyone singing and having that moment. It was very moving, and my heart was so full at that moment. I think that was my favorite moment.
A: Mine was on the opposite end: the opening number. I was towards the back, but then our groups shifted around so everyone could be in the front. Stepping forward and stepping into the light—I could feel the music, hear the song. It was so powerful.
What do you think this program means for high school or recently graduated students like yourselves?
J: This was such a privilege…. Who can say they’ve done this? When I was younger, I was the “different” kid. I was the black sheep in a field of white sheep. But then seeing the Center Stage Programs—I went to every Center Stage Showcase since they started, so being at every single one and sitting there, even before I was in high school. I was still there, during every year, watching all these idolized people. They were the coolest people on Earth, and I felt like I could relate to them. If little me saw me now, what I was doing and how I was being the influence that he wanted to see—I am representing all the people that have felt different, have felt like the “odd one out”. But here I am, at the Center Stage Showcase when I was singing, “Grow for Me” as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. This silly, little man represents my personality and who I am to all these young kids and people my age that maybe haven’t found a prototype to yet base things on. I got texts from people who were so sweet, saying, “Hey! I really admire you, coming from a boy who’s doing theater at my school. You know it’s not the most “normal” option. I look up to you, and you’re the reason I’m going to keep going.” I literally started crying when he said that. It just meant so, so much to me. I told my parents about that. People were saying, “I didn’t know there was anyone like me until I met you.” The same thing goes for me, too. I didn’t know that I could be represented so well anywhere, and seeing all these people that are like me… I’m learning things about myself through other people. It was a pleasure to say the very least, and the most heartwarming thing to have to go on.
A: We had all grown up watching videos of the Jimmy Awards and looking up to those people. We respond to the people on stage who seem like us; whether that’s racially, body type, or personality. When you can see yourself, it’s just a whole other ball game that allows you to feel, “Oh yeah, I can do that, too.” Something I learned from the Center Stage Program and the Jimmy Awards was that when I played Rosie, (Rosie Mulligan in Green Bay Southwest High School’s production of Mamma Mia!) I put so much of myself into that role. To be on stage and to be appreciated as Rosie has taught me to appreciate myself and to accept myself for who I am… That is something I will never forget, and this experience taught me that.
What is something that you would like to take away and carry with you from this whole experience?
J: I used to tell myself, “You’re on the right track. This is the community you have always dreamed about.” It met my expectations and exceeded them at the same time. It really set in, that whole idea of representation and seeing that, “There’s a place for you here. There’s a place.” Meeting my mentor, Desi Oakley, he said something like, “You have all the tools you need to have a successful life in this industry; you just have to take it. You have to take the opportunities you get. Use these experiences to help see yourself represented on stage, and be that light that you’ve been looking for. This is the moment to keep fighting—so take those acting classes and those workshops. Do the things you love to do, and don’t let anybody else tell you, “No.” You’re represented and this is who’ll be representing. Be authentic. Be yourself.” My mom also said, “Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else.” It’s true, because I am represented. I do have a place to be me, and there is a spot for me. It has been the most fulfilling experience.
A: There is something that I think I will carry with me forever…. The idea that “You are worthy of where you are.” Of course, being in that space, you’re constantly trying to do these self-talks. I, personally, constantly convince myself that, “I’m not good enough.” But I have taken a step back and realized that I resent that. Someone might have a show in the works and someone’s a better dancer than I am, but we are all there for a reason. We are all in the same boat, and we are all equally worthy of being in there in that situation. I think that is something that—and giving the best performance that I could and telling myself that, “I’m going to be worthy, that I deserve it.” I’m especially proud of myself because this is something I’ve struggled with. I’m glad that I can accept me.          
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