Pratt students nominated for Jester Awards

Gale Rose
Kena Sterling (left) and Konli Sterling (right) perform a dance number from from the Pratt High School production of "Once Upon a Mattress." The sisters have been nominated for a Music Theatre of Wichita "Jester" award in "Staging Choreography" along with Alyssa Green, Jadyn Thompson and Kristen Hodgkinson. Konli has also been nominated for "Feature Dancer" in the pre-high school division. Courtesy photo

Select Pratt High School students have been honored with Jester nominations for their work in the PHS production of “Once Upon a Mattress” that was presented in September 2019.

Nominated for “Staging Choreography” were Kristen Hodgkinson, Alyssa Green, Kena Sterling, Konli Sterling and Jadyn Thompson.

Nominated for “Feature Dancer” in the pre high school category was Konli Sterling.

Music Theatre of Wichita started the Jester Awards to honor excellence in the production of high school musicals throughout Kansas. Nominations were announced on April 6 and the awards ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, said play director Arica Malone.

Malone contacted the high school and middle school to post the nominations on social media. She said the nominees were all pretty excited.

Staging Choreography nominee Jaydn Thompson said she choreographed the step portion of the show that had the cast clapping and stomping in unison. She said many cast members had never done this before so it was challenging at first. But once they got the hang of it, it was fun and sounded awesome.

Thompson said she loved being in the show as a lady in waiting and working with the cast. She has one more goal to reach for the show.

“My all-time goal for musicals is to win a Jester. Being nominated for one is one step closer to that goal,” Thompson said.

Usually, all the nominees gather in Wichita for the Jester Awards ceremony. Hundreds of students, directors and parents attend the event. Because of COVID-19, this years awards ceremony will probably be an online event.

“It’s kind of anticlimactic that we can’t go to the ceremony in Wichita,” Malone said.

Malone said she would do her best make the awards ceremony special for the students. Exactly what that ceremony will be is still being decided.

The future of a PHS play for the fall of 2020 is uncertain. Because of COVID-19 everything is pretty much in a holding pattern. If rehearsals can’t start in July, they may have to wait to start rehearsals in September and hold the show in November.

“This is a great source of anxiety for me,” Malone said. “We just don’t have enough information yet.”

Malone said she has not selected a show yet and isn’t sure how much interest will be in a show that has to rehearse during the fall sports season. Malone is working with vocal music teacher Brandon Wade and they are waiting to see what happens. Malone has chosen to not apply for a license to produce a show until she knows what is going to happen. When she finally knows, she’ll have to get busy.

“I’ll have a lot of work to do in a small amount of time,” Malone said.

To enter the Jester’s competition, play directors have to fill out paperwork for Music Theatre of Wichita. When the play is performed, MTW sends judges, usually two, who attend each production of the play. They base their selections on a points system for each category. Those with the highest totals win Jester awards. The judging system is designed so that more than one person or group can win in each category.

This was the first year for Malone as director of the PHS play productions. Auditions for PHS plays are held in the spring just before the end of the school year. Rehearsals are held during the summer with performances at the start of the school year. There was a lot of dance in “Mattress” and the cast spent several weeks learning choreography for the big production numbers of “The Spanish Panic” and “Song Of Love” also known as “I’m in love with a girl named Fred.”

The choreography team, along with Malone, designed the dance numbers and spent many hours teaching the numbers to the cast who worked many hours at rehearsal and on their own to perfect their performance.

“I’m super proud of our production. I thought it was a great gift to our community from our school,” Malone said. “I had a great time as director for my first year. The Spanish Panic was definitely a workout.”

The Jester Awards are an affirmation of the hard work everyone puts into a show and recognizes a job well done from experts in the field of music theatre, Malone said.

There were 48 shows from across the state entered in the 2019-2020 Jester’s competition. This includes schools of all sizes. Of those shows, 43 received at least one nomination. Topeka West also produced “Once Upon a Mattress.” Other Jester nominated schools include Garden City, Hays, Pittsburg, several Wichita schools, Valley Center, Liberal, Sterling, Junction City, Lyons and many more.

Pratt has a history of winning Jester awards. In 2018-2019 they won two awards for their production of Oklahoma, Zach Shanline for Outstanding Scenic Design and David Mathis for Outstanding Leading Actor. Also nominated from Oklahoma were Brandon Wade-sound design, Michelle Popovich-costume design, Madalynn Wilson-cameo performer, Zach Shanline-technical achievement, Kahrie Stegman-supporting actress and Madalynn Wilson for choreography/staging.

Wayne Bryan is the MTW producing artistic director. The Jesters were started in 2002.