By Edward Henderson (Photos by Ken Jacques)
On Sunday, May 28th, Balboa Theatre played host to the 4th annual Ben Vereen Awards. The room was filled with anticipation and youthful exuberance as the top 20 high school musical theater performers took the stage to offer captivating performances.
The top male and female performers received a $1,000 cash prize and a trip to New York to participate in the Jimmy Awards, a national competition for high school theatre arts talent. Sky Frank of San Diego School of Creative Performing Arts won best male performer and Jillian Strattman of San Dieguito Academy won best female performer. Cathedral Catholic High School also took home an award for Best Musical Performance in a competition with four other high school ensemble performances throughout the evening.
“I put a ton of work into my song and doing the show,” said Strattman. “I wasn’t expecting to get here because I’m only a sophomore. To go through the whole process and see how amazing everyone is, the amount of talent when we were rehearsing was insane.”
“I envisioned this exact scenario in my mind time and time again,” said Frank. “There is so much positivity, it keeps propelling this event forward. Arts through education is slowly diminishing which is should not be. We gotta push in the separate direction because arts is what created everything we know. People becoming artists and expressing their true feelings through their soul.”
Championing the arts was a popular theme through the evening as Vereen’s organization Wellness Through the Arts awarded teens who submitted essays on how the arts helped them overcome personal strife with $500 checks. A featured trumpet performance was also given by a transgendered teen who was honored for his bravery and artistic achievement.
Vereen was also gifted with a surprise honor during the evening. Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, on behalf of the San Diego City Council, issued a decree that May 28th would be known as Ben Vereen Day. A visibly emotional Vereen was greeted by a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“It knocked me out, I didn’t expect it,” said Vereen. “For the city of San Diego to say this is your day and acknowledge what we’re doing here for the youth, it means everything. Thank you for your children, you’re allowing us to give them the tools they need to make a difference in the world. Every year we see how the best of the best come forward. It evolves every year. Last year we had a student come in 4th place in the nation, this year we’re after number one.”
Visit benvereenawards.com to learn more about the annual event and how you can support the arts in the San Diego community.