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    Arts reporter notebook: The 5th Avenue Awards

    The only Benaroya Hall act that generates more feelings of goodwill than Sir Mix-a-lot.
    Some 2,000 students from high schools across the state packed Benaroya Hall for the event

    Some 2,000 students from high schools across the state packed Benaroya Hall for the event Photo: Tracy Martin

    It was nothing but hoots and hollers and unbridled displays of youthful enthusiasm that flooded Benaroya Hall the other night. And it had nothing to do with the symphonic music about ample buttocks that filled the venue a few days earlier.

    Instead the occasion was the 2014 5th Avenue Awards honoring high school musical theater. Two thousand teenaged theater geeks and their educators celebrating one another.

    Naomi Morgan (in black dress) and a couple of hundred other high schoolers from across the state in the opening number of The 2014 5th Avenue Awards. Photo: Tracy Martin.

    “If only we could bottle that enthusiasm,” Holly Arsenault, executive director of TeenTix, tweeted afterwards.

    The 5th Avenue launched the awards 12 years ago. Its motivation was part outreach effort and part Let’s give equal props to theater kids the way folks tout high school athletes.

    “The reason why sports gets funded is they win trophies,” explained Bill Berry, the 5th’s producing artistic director who spearheaded the event. After a couple of years, “we started getting letters from teachers saying they were now getting support from their principal and their school board,” Berry said.

    When theater board members have attended the ceremony for the first time, Berry has, on occasion, handed out earplugs. “It’s atomic out there,” he warned, and he was right: the whooping and the cheering are so loud and infectious, even the crew backstage can’t help but smile. (I saw them do so; I was invited to co-present the “Best Costume Design” award).

    Musicals from 94 schools from across the state were celebrated in 21 categories, from Outstanding Overall Musical Production to Outstanding Lobby Display. The award – a trophy shaped like a star – is handed to a winning recipient. Award presenters are urged to not use the word winner. It’s recipient, which is what Rachel Hart, Seattle Magazine’s editor and the other co-presenter of Best Costume Design, announced.

    At right: Eli Willis of Kentridge High School, the recipient of Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Photo: Tracy Martin.

    The Best Costume competition featured The Wizard of Oz versus The Boy Friend versus two different Shrek the Musicals. Eight productions total. The trophy was handed to a quartet of girls who costumed Urinetown at Seattle’s Ballard High. 

    The recipients were totally glam, dressed in their winning costumes. “Steampunk meets Renaissance,” one costumer explained. Maddie LeClair, a senior, held the trophy and her hands would not stop shaking.

    “This is what I totally want to do!” LeClair gushed. And in rapid fire, LeClair, Helen Maclay, Zoe Adamson and Maleah Metz said: We probably spent a total of $100 on costumes! This was an old Romeo and Juliet gown! This was two months of our life every day after school and at lunch and on Saturdays!!

    In between performances of songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Thoroughly Modern Millie and Kiss Me Kate and Pippin,  Richland High School teacher Ellicia Mertens Elliott gave an acceptance speech about the lessons learned from doing theater. They include learning how to work hard and how to be kind to one another, she said.

    “You will not learn how to do that in Common Core or taking a standardized test,” added Elliott, who was handed the Outstanding Educator award. The crowd roared.

    Crosscut's arts coverage is made possible through the generous support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

    Florangela Davila is Contributing Arts Editor at Crosscut. A freelance journalist, she is also a regular contributor to NPR-affiliate KPLU-FM. She's a former faculty member at the University of Washington and a former reporter at The Seattle Times. You can follow her arts-centric Twitter feed @florangela or email her at florangela.davila@crosscut.com.

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    Posted Fri, Jun 13, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    Adding thanks to the amazing pack of volunteers across the state who spend a big chunk of their year watching all these productions and reporting back on them!


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