The first time Las Vegas student Sophia Wilson stepped on stage at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway, she felt a sense of belonging.
“That was surprising, because I expected to be absolutely terrified,” admits Wilson, a student at Bishop Gorman High School. “The funny thing is that once I was really out there, it felt totally natural.”
It’s no surprise she felt so at home.
That’s because Wilson, along with fellow Las Vegas student Joey Cooper, traveled to Broadway for a reason in June: to represent Nevada while competing in the 2019 National High School Musical Theatre Awards, the Jimmy Awards.
They qualified for this life-changing opportunity by winning Best Actor and Best Actress at The Smith Center’s seventh-annual Nevada High School Musical Theater Awards.
With the help of donor support, The Smith Center sends the event’s winners each year to the Jimmy Awards on a complimentary, 10-day trip to New York City.
Not only did Wilson and Cooper perform alongside over 80 of the nation’s top musical theater students, but Wilson was among a handful of competitors awarded with a $2,000 scholarship for her hard work and talent.
Beyond that surprise, she says, this trip gave her invaluable experience as an aspiring performer.
“Being at the Jimmy Awards made me realize that the theater is a lot more welcoming than I expected,” she says. “It taught me that being in professional theater is not an impossible task. It is a reachable goal.”
The students’ experience at the Jimmy Awards included opportunities few teenagers have.
This spanned private coaching, master classes and rehearsals with top Broadway professionals.
Cooper even worked with Broadway star Adam Kantor (“Rent,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Band’s Visit”) as his personal vocal coach for the entire week.
“Once I discovered he would be my voice coach, I was in shock,” says Cooper, a student at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.
Initially struggling with the new song he picked for the competition, Cooper recalls “freaking out because I was bombing in front of one of my idols.”
That is, until Kantor helped Cooper relax with some pivotal advice.
“He was the one that reminded me that I had nothing to prove to anyone, only something to share,” Cooper says. “That idea will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Wilson and Cooper also participated in group training and rehearsals to perform a full show with the over 80 competitors.
The production’s choreographer “showed true professionalism and pushed us to our limits,” Wilson notes.
“It was incredible meeting other students from across the country,” she adds. “It’s unbelievable and amazing that so many people from so many different walks of life can have the same dream and put aside the competition aspect in order to achieve it.”
Working alongside these performers with “insane” talent showed Cooper how to collaborate even in a high-stakes setting, he says.
“It helped me grow by teaching me about the actual business and how professionals actually work,” he says. “It is not an easy job, not even in the slightest, but I know now it is definitely the most rewarding and fulfilling.”
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Las Vegas, NV 89106