Gwinnett County was well-represented at last week’s Shuler Hensley Awards.
Of the county’s 15 finalists, two were award winners. Greater Atlanta Christian’s Kristy Winkes, a teacher in the middle and high school drama department, won Best Direction for the production of “Les Miserables” and Celine Sullivan from the Artios Academies of Sugar Hill won Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in the role of Mae Tuck in “Tuck Everlasting.”
The ceremony, which recognizes the top musical theatre productions in Georgia, was presented by the ArtsBridge Foundation and broadcast live on Georgia Public Broadcasting on Thursday evening.
“They tell you, ‘We’ll give 30 seconds, so have something prepared just in case,’” Winkes said of her acceptance speech. “I knew the people I wanted to thank. I’m pretty good on my feet, thinking and speaking. I had to ask my husband, though, because I don’t even remember what I said.”
Winkes is in her second year with Greater Atlanta Christian’s theater program. GAC is no stranger to Shuler Awards. GAC’s Parker Jennings won last year for her performance in “My Fair Lady,” her third award in a row. GAC’s “Les Mis” production was also nominated for seven different awards, the most of any local school.
Winkes has 20 years of directing experience and helped build the theater program of Legacy Christian Academy in Minnesota from seven people to 120.
“I knew we were good and the show was good and I’m confident in my abilities, but there is such a plethora of talent in Georgia,” Winkes said. “I knew some that were nominated, and they are from strong programs. I was honored and humbled because I was sitting among some exceptional directors.”
She credited the deep talent at GAC and the passion her students show for kindling her own fire for directing.
For Sullivan, the recognition was a complete shock and was her first award of that scale. Sullivan’s character, Mae Tuck, is a mother who lives forever. She had never played a character that much older than herself, so feeling comfortable in the skin of Mae Tuck was hard for her to adjust to at first. What Sullivan was confident in was the vocals.
The Artios Academies of Sugar Hill production of “Tuck Everlasting” took approximately two months to prepare. With that short of a time frame, Sullivan’s one-on-one time with her director was limited — plus she was doing some work on the set.
After a few weeks, though, she felt confident in her ability to perform the role.
“Every role is different,” Sullivan said. “I definitely grow every time, because I learn more about myself.”
Sullivan has worked with Artios Academies acting and vocal coach Ben Toler for 10 years. He helped develop her raw vocal skills into the superb range she now possesses. It’s a good thing, too, since Mae Tuck’s vocals reached the brink of Sullivan’s range.
“He’s been so helpful over the years,” Sullivan said of Toler. “I was so bad, it was not working. He gave me great direction and one day I came back and was able to sing well.”
Sullivan is a rising senior. She only attends Artios Academies part-time while she’s taken academic classes at Eastside Academic Studies, Vantage Point Education and some homeschooling. She has aspirations to study acting and hopes to dive into professional acting after high school.
Lawrenceville Elementary fourth-grader Carson Shelton was part of the much-laureled production of “Newsies” at Lambert High School. The production won awards for Best Choreography, Ensemble and Overall Production. Shelton, 10, played the part of Les.
Gwinnett County had finalists in all but two categories. Buford High School had finalists in three categories. Duluth had two finalists and Artios Academies of Sugar Hill had two finalists, while Providence Christian Academy had one.