The tropical Miami conditions were a far cry from the cold gripping the DC area in early January. But the temperate climate was not the sole reason a select group of area artists were happy to escape the Mid-Atlantic. These artists, ranging from just 15-18 years of age, were selected from a pool of 11,000 applicants as National YoungArts Foundation finalists and were participating in YoungArts Week 2015. There, along with some 170 fellow singers, actors, dancers and musicians, seven metro area youth were immersed in studying their respective crafts and worked with master artists as they were encouraged to continue pursuing their artistic passions. A week’s highlight was performing at Miami Beach’s New World Center.
The National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) was established in 1981 by Lin and Ted Arison to identify and nurture the next generation of artists in the literary, performing, visual and design arts, and to contribute to the cultural vitality of the nation by supporting the artistic development of talented young artists. YoungArts Winners are designated into three categories–Finalist, Honorable Mention and Merit–and are selected through a blind adjudication process. 2015 finalists had the opportunity to participate in the 34th annual National YoungArts Week, which took place in Miami from January 4 to 11, 2015. The metro are youth join an auspicious group of YoungArts alumni including actresses Vanessa Williams, Viola Davis, and Kerry Washington; four-time Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza; CEO of American Ballet Theater Rachel Moore; recording artists Nicki Minaj and Chris Young; musicians Terence Blanchard, Eric Owens, and Jennifer Koh; choreographer Desmond Richardson; and internationally acclaimed multimedia artist Doug Aitken.
Of these talented students, several are already well known to the DCMetroTheaterArts community. Alex Stone, a senior at McLean High School. McLean, VA, has received multiple area recognitions for local theater work including by DCMTA for recent portrayals as Sweeney Todd, Frank Abignale Jr., and in Songs for a New World. Outside the region, Stone is known for catching the eye of Tony and Grammy Award-winning composer, lyricist, and arranger Marc Shaiman for the youth’s performance of “Goodbye” while at the International Thespian Conference, June 2014. Stone, a finalist in the Spoken and Musical Theater category was the final male musical theater performer Tuesday, January 6, 2015 as he presented “The Lady Must Be Mad” from Illyria. Stone’s on-stage ease and command of the space belied his mere 17-years of age. But it was his conviction in the role and soaring vocals that brought the crowd to a unanimous roar at the end of his piece.
Jessica Niles, finalist in the category of voice, is also no stranger to area stages. A student at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA , Niles appeared as the Yelling Minstrel in the school’s multiple CAPPIE award-winning production of Spamalot in 2014. She has also studied at the Juilliard Pre-College Division and Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional in Nice, France. Niles was chosen as the first young lady to grace the stage at YoungArts Week. Presenting Winter by Dominick Argento, this soprano sang with both confidence and ease, navigating multiple vocal registers and challenging runs apparently effortlessly. Niles set a high bar for performances throughout the week.
Nathan Beech, Forest Park High School, Manassas Va., while perhaps less known locally, has certainly made his mark outside the area. 2013 saw the then 16-year old bring home the Mr. Dance World title at the inaugural World Dance Pageant in Orlando, Fl.
A YoungArts finalist in the category of Dance, Beech opened the evening’s performance Wednesday, January 7th, with a spirited dance tapped to Michael Bublé’s version of Mack The Knife. His years of study at the DeGrasse Dance Studio and Studio Bleu Dance Center were on display as he brought both performance charm and well executed pull backs, over-the -tops and a series of pirouettes that you would have sworn could only have been executed by an ice dancer.
Four additional metro area students joined Stone, Niles, and Beech at YoungArts week: in the Dance category, Aaron Hilton, Professional Childrens School, Washington, DC, and Matthew McLaughlin, The Barrie School, Silver Spring, MD, and in the category of Music Charles Lilley, Dematha HS, Olney, MD and Evelyn Mo, Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology, Oak Hill, VA.
The increasing prominence of Washington as a theater and entertainment hub is already known and growing in recognition. It would appear with this impressive display from local students and national recognition by the YoungArts Foundation, DC’s artistic future is in good hands.
National YoungArts Foundation Announces 2015 YoungArts Winners.
2015 National YoungArts Week video collection.