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Students win theater awards
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The Dawson County Arts Council earned national recognition during the 2012 Junior Theater Festival, a celebration of on-stage and backstage excellence last month in Atlanta.

"[The Junior Theater Festival] is the only festival of its kind," said Dawson County Junior Theater Director Nathan Gerrells. "It is a weekend of celebrating the achievements of kids who have chosen to participate in theater."

Dawsonville student Sean Newman took home a Freddie G. Outstanding Individual Male Performance Award during the Jan. 13-15 event.

Last year he was one of eight students named to the festival all-stars, where he worked side-by-side with professionals to run the festival's Disney Musicals New Works showcase and the event's closing ceremonies.

"Sean is an outstanding performer and a very hard worker," Gerrells said. "Sean began acting at a young age and set his goals on working professionally in theater then. He has stayed focused and very realistic in his attempts."

Student Colleen Norris was also given special recognition. She was named to the technical theater all-stars.

"Colleen is another very hard working student," Gerrells said. "I was excited that I had six kids who chose to participate in the tech-theater workshops instead of the acting workshops at the conference. They got to experience another side of the theater world."

With a total of 31 students, Dawson County Arts Council also performed selections from "Godspell, Jr.," a popular Broadway musical, for adjudication by a panel of national theater professionals.

"We worked on ‘Godspell, Jr.' for five months before the festival. We rehearsed every other Saturday morning in the fall, and then went to two days a week in the winter," Gerrells said.

When they performed during the festival the judging panel included musical director Derek Bowley, known for his Kennedy Center tour and premiere of "The Phantom Tollbooth," and Shay Rogers, manager of education for Theatre Under the Stars in Houston.

"The students from Dawson County Arts Council showed us the most important aspect of this show: The sense of community and connection among the actors. There was commitment and support from every actor for his or her fellow cast mates," said Bowley about the group's performance, according to a press release.

Rogers agreed with Bowley and then called the group "wonderfully talented" since "each actor brought their own characterization to the show," according to the release.

While at the festival students and teachers also got to interact with thousands of others who share a passion for musical theater.

In addition to gaining professional development, participants were able to enjoy theatrical fellowship and attend a professional production of "Annie" at the Fox Theatre.

"The festival gives them an opportunity to be with 3,000 other people like them. The kids leave the festival with a renewed sense of pride and a desire to perform like they never have [before]," Gerrells said.

Members of the Dawson County Arts Council have attended the festival for three years.