Taking Home the Prize


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There was even red carpet.

High school theater groups from around the area gathered last weekend at the Ramada Inn in Clarks Summit for the inaugural ESTA (excellence in school theater arts) awards were presented.

Valley View High School won awards for best executed choreography and for best overall production of a musical for this year’s performance of “West Side Story.” Eric Gowat, who played “Riff” in the musical, won the award for best male supporting role in a musical.

Students from Abington Heights, Lackawanna Trail, Riverside, Scranton and Valley View high schools were nominated in various categories.

The awards were the brainchild of Jillian Kemmerer, a member of Ghostlight Productions, an Abingtons-based theater group known for its annual presentation of “Shakespeare in the Park.” The awards were created to recognize and applaud the hard work of high school theater students in Northeast Pennsylvania.

“We have so many awards programs for so many other things, but somehow the arts have slipped through,” Kemmerer said. “What if this is all the kids do? They need something to recognize their efforts.”

The awards ceremony included two performances from each nominated production as well as a dessert reception.

Gina Lupini, the co-director of Valley View High School’s performance of “West Side Story,” along with Jovanna Rusnak, said that seeing their students nominated for an ESTA Award was a gratifying show of teamwork.

“The production of ‘West Side Story’ was a huge team effort,” she said. “As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village...’ We truly thank all who were involved with the production from stem to stern. We have an amazing production crew, supportive parents and a most enthusiastic and supportive board of administrators that allows each student to shine. Without this combined effort, we would never be at this stage. We are proud the continue the tradition of musical excellence at Valley View.”

Kemmerer hopes that the ESTA Awards help instill confidence and enthusiasm in students.

“Students nowadays need something to be passionate about,” she said. “If we can help spur on that passion through friendly competition and encourage them to work harder and go on to bigger and better things, that’s will help nourish a passion in their life for something. They don’t have to go to school for art, music or theater but if it is an outlet to get them excited, then we need to nourish it. We need to applaud the students who are out there doing something and who are excited.”

Rachel Strayer, the founder of Ghostlight Productions, explained why receiving an ESTA Award, or at least a nomination, is important for a student.

“When you think about it, the local schools are being taxed in terms of resources, as far as giving any kind of resources to theater departments or any kind of art,” she said. “I remember back in high school, they always gave awards for sports at the end of the year. It is just as important that we show that same support to the students who are participating in the arts. We need to help schools do that so that the burden doesn’t fall on the schools.”

(Christopher Cornell contributed to this report.)

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