Two Georgia high school graduates to compete in National High School Musical Theatre Awards

ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Eli Talley (left) and Georgia Thomas (right) pose with Elaine Sterling (center), founder, The Elaine Sterling Institute. The two Georgia high school graduates spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are competing in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Combined ShapeCaption
ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Eli Talley (left) and Georgia Thomas (right) pose with Elaine Sterling (center), founder, The Elaine Sterling Institute. The two Georgia high school graduates spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are competing in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

On June 2, ArtsBridge Foundation — which provides arts education and community engagement programming to Georgia students — announced the two high school students who will represent Georgia at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also called the Jimmy Awards. On Tuesday, the recent graduates were treated to a pampering at The Elaine Sterling Institute (ESI) as a sendoff for the awards at the end of June.

Students at ESI, a beauty school which focuses on cosmetology, esthetics and nail care, celebrated the achievements of Georgia Thomas, a graduating senior at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, and graduating senior Eli Talley of Ringgold High School in Ringgold.

The Jimmy Awards are presented by The Broadway League — the same trade association behind the Tony Awards.

Nominees compete for scholarships of $25,000 and travel to New York City, where they perform at a talent showcase on Broadway. Thomas and Talley were both selected for their top performances at the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Shuler Awards.

Explore2022 Shuler Award winners announced

According to Elizabeth Lenhart, director of arts education with ArtsBridge, the Shuler Awards “raises the standards of performing arts within not only that school but collectively across the state of Georgia.”

In preparation for the Shuler Awards, adjudicators go to schools and evaluate students based on that school’s arts budget and opportunities. Any student can send in an application, and the top 50 make it to the Shuler Awards, emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion in the selection process.

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Eli Talley (left) and Georgia Thomas (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Eli Talley (left) and Georgia Thomas (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Eli Talley (left) and Georgia Thomas (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Awards are given for all components of the production process, including direction, choreography, lighting design, sound and technical execution. The leading actress and actor are selected for the Jimmy Awards.

Thomas finished first for leading actress, and Talley came in second for leading actor, though best leading actor Nicholas Alexander Wilkinson II of Tri-Cities High School withdrew from the competition to compete with his school at the International Thespian Festival in Bloomington, Indiana. Wilkinson won for his role as Fela Kuti in the jukebox musical “Fela!”

“[Wilkinson’s] choice was based on the integrity of his character, which is pursuing an avenue that is for the benefit of his whole cast, rather than pursue one that was very individual and ego-based, that only had him as a recipient,” Lenhart said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Thomas of Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross was named winner of the Best Performance by a Lead Actress category in the 2022 Shuler Awards presented by ArtsBridge Foundation. Here she performs during the awards event in the role of "Anastasia." Photo by Ben Rose.

Credit: www.BenRosePhotography.com

Georgia Thomas of Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross was named winner of the Best Performance by a Lead Actress category in the 2022 Shuler Awards presented by ArtsBridge Foundation. Here she performs during the awards event in the role of "Anastasia." Photo by Ben Rose.

Credit: www.BenRosePhotography.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Thomas of Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross was named winner of the Best Performance by a Lead Actress category in the 2022 Shuler Awards presented by ArtsBridge Foundation. Here she performs during the awards event in the role of "Anastasia." Photo by Ben Rose.

Credit: www.BenRosePhotography.com

Credit: www.BenRosePhotography.com

Preparing for the Jimmy Awards

After Thomas and Talley were selected, they had five days to submit their adjudication materials to the Jimmy Awards.

“The fact that they could handle pressure, handle it so gracefully and responsibly, really showed me a lot about their work ethic,” Lenhart said. “They did not stop until we were all satisfied, so I really believe we have fantastic representatives for the state of Georgia.”

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas (left) and Eli Talley (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas (left) and Eli Talley (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas (left) and Eli Talley (right) spent the afternoon getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup by cosmetology students at The Salon at ESI. Eli and Georgia are representing the state in a national high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Thomas, 18, was selected for her role as Anya in “Anastasia,” the culmination of her seven-year theater career throughout middle and high school. After watching her sister play the Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella,” Thomas got into theater herself after moving to Georgia from North Carolina.

“It was a really cool experience getting to go through learning how to do self-tapes on a quick turnaround, doing interview type of things,” Thomas told The AJC. “It was really good practice for what it would really be like in the industry.”

When she found out she won best actress, she said the experience was a blur — she rewatched the broadcast to remember what she said. Since then, she has been working on solo song pieces for workshops at the awards and preparing for her time in New York before starting college at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

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“I’m really looking forward to getting to meet people, meeting the other high schoolers from their regional arts programs, and just finding a community of, across the nation, kids who do theater,” she said.

Talley was selected for his role as Frank Abagnale in “Catch Me If You Can.” The 17-year-old, who will be attending Savannah College of Art and Design, got into theater after his middle school science teacher — who often punished him for being too loud in class — introduced him to the choir instructor and got him to audition for “The Lion King Jr.”

“‘Catch Me If You Can’ is a very strenuous show... where I’m never going offstage, I’m always dancing and singing things that are at the top of my range, so really that took a lot of training to get that role down,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep that routine going... maintain what I already have and keep critiquing the crap out of myself and just really try to get better.”

“Something in me always knew it would happen if the work was there,” he added. “If the work was there, and if the attitude was there, if you want it bad enough, it will happen.”

Talley, who has never been to New York, is hoping to “accomplish something very big” at the Jimmy Awards, as well as meet other talented young theater stars. He also plays guitar and saxophone and produces music in his own time.

“This opportunity isn’t mine. It’s an opportunity for my team to get the [respect] that they deserve,” Talley said. “My cast is everything. Nothing comes to fruition, no show is going to be good, without a solid cast.”

The theatricality of beauty

At ESI on Tuesday, Thomas and Talley got into character and performed for everyone who made the sendoff possible. Elaine Sterling, who founded the Institute, teared up afterwards.

“I want these two students, because they’re from Georgia, to realize their dreams,” Sterling, who did theater throughout her childhood in South Africa, told The AJC. “They’re obviously so incredibly talented, and to go to New York and to stay at Juilliard, I get goosebumps because I didn’t get to do that.”

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas and Eli Talley (center) are joined by students of The Elaine Sterling Institute from left Quinteria Graves, Lenasia Randle, Tiffany Hargrove and the school's COO, Asha Sterling. Thomas and Talley got show-ready with hair, makeup, and nailcare help from the students in preparation for their national theatre competition at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. The nominees are representing the state in a high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas and Eli Talley (center) are joined by students of The Elaine Sterling Institute from left Quinteria Graves, Lenasia Randle, Tiffany Hargrove and the school's COO, Asha Sterling. Thomas and Talley got show-ready with hair, makeup, and nailcare help from the students in preparation for their national theatre competition at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. The nominees are representing the state in a high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Combined ShapeCaption
(ATLANTA, June 14, 2022) ArtsBridge Foundation finalists Georgia Thomas and Eli Talley (center) are joined by students of The Elaine Sterling Institute from left Quinteria Graves, Lenasia Randle, Tiffany Hargrove and the school's COO, Asha Sterling. Thomas and Talley got show-ready with hair, makeup, and nailcare help from the students in preparation for their national theatre competition at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. The nominees are representing the state in a high school musical competition produced by the same presenters as the Tony Awards. The winners will be announced in New York City on June 27, 2022. CREDIT: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Credit: Nicholas Wolaver for ESI/ArtsBridgeGA.org

Sterling said that because many of her students work so closely with people in the theater world, their craft is inherently theatrical.

“I explain to my students how to create their experience through lighting, through color, through energy, through music, and we’re touching people’s lives with our hands and our hearts,” Sterling said.

For Kamaria Drummond, a student at the Institute who specializes in nails, catering to Thomas and Talley was a way to help them “take a deep breath of fresh air” and relax during a hectic competition schedule.

Jessica Ammons, owner of Glam Boss studios who studied and now teaches at ESI, told The AJC that this collaboration between student artists and beauty students is empowering for both sides. Down the line, these actors and makeup artists or nail stylists could interact in a setting like Broadway.

“I think it shows our students what hard work looks like,” Ammons said. “I’ve got students who are well older than me that haven’t reached that pinnacle for themselves yet, so to be able to see that in such young adults is mind blowing and is motivating to our students.”