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West Side Story wins two GAHSMTA awards

MacTheatre captures Best Ensemble, Best Orchestra; Laing and company perform on Long Center stage

The+cast+and+crew+of+%22West+Side+Story%22+poses+for+a+group+photo+on+the+red+carpet+at+the+Long+Center.+Photo+by+Tammy+Fotinos.+
The cast and crew of

The cast and crew of "West Side Story" poses for a group photo on the red carpet at the Long Center. Photo by Tammy Fotinos.

The cast and crew of "West Side Story" poses for a group photo on the red carpet at the Long Center. Photo by Tammy Fotinos.

Zoe Hocker, assistant editor

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The cast and crew of West Side Story took home awards for Best Ensemble and Best Orchestra last night at the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards at the Long Center.

Senior Pedro Najar and sophomore Lilah Guaragna, both ensemble members, said winning Best Ensemble validated all the hard work that cast members poured into the show.

“Winning to me is recognition and reassurance,” Guaragna said. “It’s not the fancy award or title,  but the fact that we were recognized for hard work.”

Najar said that he felt the award validated his decision to push himself to try something new.

“[Winning] shows me that I can step out of my comfort zone and really have fun.”

Senior Austen Juul-Hansen accepted the Best Ensemble award on behalf of the cast, and junior Jonathan Forbes, who served as assistant musical director of the show, accepted the Best Orchestra GAHSMTA on behalf of the student orchestra that performed at the shows.

The award ceremony hosted 38 high schools from around Austin.  According to technical director Laura Kieler, participating schools select the musical they want for the professionals to judge and then the professional judges go trough a rigorous process to evaluate each production and choose citywide finalists.

[The GAHSMTA’s are] kind of like the Tony’s for high school theatre in Austin.”

— Tech theatre teacher Laura Kieler

Any high school in Austin can ask to be adjudicated,” Kieler said. “They send judges over and they watch your show and then it’s kind of like The Tony’s for high school theatre in Austin.”

West Side Story was nominated for eight awards, including Best Orchestra, Best Choreography, Best Musical Direction, Best Lighting Design, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Direction, Best Ensemble, and the highest honor a school can receive: Best Production. Shows nominated for Best Production get to perform one of the numbers from their show on the Long Center Stage. Kieler has attended every GAHSMTA Awards ceremony since its inaugural show five years ago. She said that the process is long for the crews whose shows are nominated for Best Production.

The West Side Story cast performs its best production nominee number. Photo by Keri Stephens.

“I believe eight schools are nominated every year,” Kieler said. “You actually go and get to perform a musical number from your show at the ceremony so you spend the day there, and you have a short rehearsal where they set your lights. Usually there is some sort of projection or something like a backdrop. We spend the day at the Long Center seeing what goes on. You get to see the other schools and their rehearsals and get ready in the dressing room.”

After weeks of rehearsal and a day at the Long Center preparing, MacTheatre performed a medley of the songs including “Dance At The Gym,” “Mambo” and “Tonight Quintet.”

Freshman Helena Laing, who was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, said the choreography was challenging for her.

We’re doing my hardest parts for dancing because we are doing the mambo partner section which is a lot and then we have to do ‘Tonight Quintet,’” Laing said.

Laing did not win the Best Actress Award, but she said before the show that she would be happy for whoever won it.

“They’re really cool so even if I don’t win,” Laing said. “I’m happy for them because we’re all talented, and we all want it and we’re all friends.”

— with reporting by Mia Terminella

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West Side Story wins two GAHSMTA awards