Each year, Benet Academy participates in the most elite theatre competition in the state of Illinois. The Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards (IHSMTA) are given to the best of the best, those who show great talent and performance quality. The past two years the structure of the ceremony has changed, but it’s ultimate goal has stayed the same: continue to recognize local talent. This year, specifically, schools may nominate four actors or actresses total for Best Actor and Best Actress. Each selected nominee must submit two Jimmy-eligible songs by video. Twenty four students will be chosen from everyone that was nominated to compete in the virtual IHSMTA ceremony on May 3rd. From there, the students will be narrowed into three finalists per category, and then onto a Best Actor and Best Actress. Students who win Best Actor and Best Actress will then be able to compete in the Jimmy Awards (the national competition for Best Actor and Best Actress).

Unfortunately, for the 2020-2021 season, several awards have been suspended: Best Scenic Design, Best Choreography, Best Ensemble, Best Direction, and Best Production. However, Benet has still been able to recognize and uphold their talent. From this year’s musicals, She Loves Me and Little Shop of Horrors, Benet has chosen to nominate four actors: Leah Coffey (‘21) for her portrayal of Amalia Balash, Alison Gedraitis (‘21) for her portrayal of Ilona Ritter, Andrew McDonald (‘21) for his portrayal of Steven Kodaly, and Matthys Cieplak (‘21) for her portrayal of Audrey.

This prestigious nomination is an accomplishment on its own. Alison Gedraitis (Ilona Ritter) said that when she found out she was being nominated, she was elated to hear the news. “I always looked up to the extremely talented leads that were nominated — it’s insane to me that I’m being given the same opportunity they had.” She said that the anticipation of waiting was a challenge, but that she was excited to see the outcome. Something very different about this year’s IHSMTA process was that it was completely filmed – no audience allowed for these performances. Alison said that the filming process was a unique experience, and that it was a challenge to have no audience — but “this added challenge only strengthened everyone’s skills”.

Kelsey Lauren, director and choreographer of both musicals, also described the nomination and filming processes. Normally, she explained that roles were nominated based on the shows that were performed. This year, however, no shows were able to be nominated due to accommodations made by IHSMTA. “Students chosen this year were all leads, and from both She Loves Me and Little Shop of Horrors.” This added layer of “flexibility” allowed for more students to participate than what might typically occur. 

As for filming, Ms. Lauren said that the scenes were done several times at numerous angles in order to get a film that had the feel of a movie. This style of performance and filming is  exemplified by videos of all the nominees, which can be found on the Benet Academy Music Department YouTube channel. She feels great going into the IHSMTA process, saying “These kids are so prepared and have already put their best work forward! They are all amazing.” Support these amazing actors and actresses (and your peers) by seeing their performances once the films of their shows are available, and now by heading to YouTube!