By TAYLOR HARTZ
“It felt like the Oscars for high school,” said Southington High School senior Marissa Mayo of last Tuesday evening, when the Southington High School theater department was honored at the 12th annual Halo Awards.
The awards, presented by Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury, invited Southington to attend what was described as a red-carpet gala where students dressed in their best formalwear for an evening of celebration and performance.
The two-night event at the Palace Theater in Waterbury invited students from 55 schools across the state to be recognized for excellence in high school theater, with dozens of award categories in performance, production, direction, and technical design.
In their second year participating in the awards, Southington drama students earned an impressive 10 nominations, including best contemporary musical, best chorus in a musical, and best ensemble in a musical. Led by club advisor and director Eric Lindblom, the SHS theater department hosts two to three performances each year—a fall drama, a spring musical, and the occasional cabaret.
Southington joined nearly 30 schools honored at the event on Tuesday evening, hosted by actor and motivational speaker Michelle Gotay, where they performed “Privelege to Pee” from their spring musical, Urinetown.
Of their many nominations, the high school took home awards in three categories, recognizing five students for their hard work and talent.
Mayo joined fellow senior Jessica Dos Santos and sophomore Madison Yurgatis in accepting the award for Best Choreographer, all in their first season of theater at SHS.
The three students joined the drama club this spring, when the department was seeking choreographers for Urinetown.
Thanks to their background in community dance, the transition to musical theater was easy for the choreographers. Mayo and Dos Santos used over a decade of experience from Ms. Cindy’s studio in Southington when making their high school theater debut, while Yurgatis found the drama department to be a perfect fit after 14 years with the New England Dance and Gymnastics Center.
“They were able to take choreography that was complex and teach it in such a way that our entire cast looked fantastic,” said Alyssa Bunel, assistant director and vocal director of the performances, and assistant advisor for the club.
Londblom agreed, crediting the dancers with designing choreography that worked well in the high-energy show.
Yurgatis, the youngest student to receive a Halo this year, said that the recognition has encouraged her to pursue theater in the future. She hopes to continue choreographing musical theater dances for the department over the next two years.
Receiving awards for their on-stage performances were senior Rachel Mouris and junior Emily Sargent.
Mouris has been a member of the drama department for four years, participating in at least six shows and serving as the club’s treasurer for two years.
“I can honestly say we owe much of our success this year to Rachel’s involvement,” said Lindblom. “She has an infectious positivity that always brightens up everyone’s day.”
Mouris won her Halo for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comic Role in a Play for her role as Delilah in Father of the Bride. Mouris said she was honored to win in the comedy category. “It’s really fun to make people laugh,” she said, “and that’s my favorite thing to do on stage.”
Junior Emily Sargent has been involved in community theater since she was in elementary school, and has been active in the SHS drama department for two years. She was nominated for a Halo last year for her performance as Nehebka in the musical Aida, but took home her first Halo this year, winning the category of Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Pennywise in Urinetown.
Lindblom congratulated Sargent for her ability to “understand the complicated nature of her character,” and was thrilled to see his student recognized for her acting and vocal talent.
In what he recently announced as his last season with the drama club, Lindblom said he is extremely grateful to his students for making his eighth and final year with the club a successful one.
Both he and Bunel, his assistant director for both of this year’s nominated shows, hope the Halo Awards will encourage students to pursue their talents and continue in theater.
“Programs like the Halo Awards give us a chance to gauge ourselves against similar programs to see just how strong our program is,” said Lindblom, saying that he was happy to perform for all the nominated schools and receive support from other high school departments.
Yurgatis said the state-wide support was the best part of the evening, describing the non-competitive environment at the awards, where every nominated department cheered loudly for other schools’ performances and recognitions.
Bunel said she believes the Halo Awards will help the students improve every year with positive encouragement and incentive, and will “allow other people in other communities to see how talented Southington truly is.”