Harrison Lewis (left) performs as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi in "Curtains" and Jessi Kirtley performing as Mary Poppins during the 2019 Shuler Awards hosted by ArtsBridge Foundation. Photo by Ben Rose for ArtsBridge Foundation
Photo: Ben Rose/Ben Rose/BenRosePhotography.com
Photo: Ben Rose/Ben Rose/BenRosePhotography.com

Fulton students head to NYC for national theater competition

The bright lights of Broadway are beckoning two metro Atlanta high school students to compete on a national stage.

After winning best actor and actress awards in the statewide competition known as the Shuler awards, Harrison Lewis, a recent graduate of Milton High School and Jessi Kirtley, a rising senior at Roswell High School headed to New York City to participate in a week of master classes and training with Broadway coaches and accomplished professionals.

Although the experience is perhaps its own reward, the pair is also competing against other theater students across the county in the Jimmy Awards, the national high school musical theater awards.

With poise and professionalism belying her young age, Kirtley said she enjoys becoming someone else on stage.

“When people tell me after a performance that they barely recognized me, I take that as a compliment,” she said. “I get to be anyone I want and try out different personalities.”

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Lewis agreed that the opportunity to make yourself into whomever you want is heady experience. He started acting at young age after trying sports and other creative outlets.

“It just seemed like it was the perfect fit for me,” he said.

Like so many actors who also want to try their hand behind the scenes, Lewis plans on taking directing and film-making classes this fall. He’ll be a freshman at Northwestern University.

“I picked that school because unlike a lot of other art schools, you get the opportunity to try a lot of other things,” he said. “You aren’t pigeon-holed as just one thing.”

The theater gene runs in Harrison’s family. His father has appeared on stage and his younger sister, Sarah Lewis, is already performing on Broadway and the Alliance Theater.

Fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards, the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards – Shuler Hensley Awards celebrate excellence in high school musical theater. A program of the non-profit ArtsBridge, the awards are named in honor of actor/singer and Georgia native, Shuler Hensley, winner of the Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award. The program embodies a spirit of camaraderie and celebration for the arts in high schools across Georgia. 

The Jimmy Awards/The National High School Musical Theatre Awards was established in 2009 to elevate the importance of theater arts education in schools and reward excellence in student performance. Following its continued success, NHSMTA has grown to accommodate 43 regional awards programs that feature more than 1,700 high schools, impacting over 100,000 students who participate in high school musical theater competitions sponsored by presenters of Touring Broadway productions throughout the United States. 

ArtsBridge Foundation, the education outreach arm of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is charged with securing financial resources for ArtsBridge, the Foundation's education and community engagement programs. ArtsBridge provides quality arts education and community engagement programming, designed to inspire creativity and foster the next generation of artists and arts supporters. 

Since its inception in 2007, ArtsBridge has served over 380,000 students and educators from 58 Georgia counties, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In addition to the Shuler Hensley Awards, ArtsBridge programs include field trips to the Cobb Energy Centre for performances by leading local and national arts organizations, master classes, professional development for local theater directors, educational arts experiences and more.

The Shuler awards were aired on GPB. View the ceremony here.

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