Jerry Awards recognize powerful work of high school theater programs

Amber Kind-Keppel

“Providing a platform to honor and celebrate the rich work of these high school theater programs is invaluable.”

“In 2020, we presented Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” said Amber Kind-Keppel, theater program director, Whitefish Bay High School, a Jerry Awards participant for the past 4-5 years. “It was a show all ages could enjoy, and we were fortunate to get it in before school closed. It felt like our gift to the community before everything shutdown.”

The Jerry Awards, one of Wisconsin’s high school musical awards programs, encourages, recognizes and honors excellence in high school musical theater. Educators and industry professionals review productions and provide valuable feedback to more than 98 high schools in 30 counties around the state.

Kind-Keppel, trying to build a musical theater program that would attract and nurture students and enrich the Whitefish Bay community, was thankful when she heard about the Jerry Awards program.

“It is really valuable to have people who are not connected with our program watch our musical, celebrate what went well and suggest ways to improve,” she said. “I want our program to be the best it can be, and the Jerry Awards provide feedback and opportunities to make that happen.

Whitefish Bay High School has received an Outstanding Musical Award several times. In preparation for the annual awards show in June, Kind-Keppel and the theater students reconvene, usually 3-4 months after their show, and put together a medley highlighting some of their production’s best moments.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to come back together as a musical family and share our passion with thousands of people across the state,” she said. “And for the students coming to Madison for the awards show, it’s a fortunate experience to be surrounded by others who share the same passion for musical theater, to feel that sense of community. It’s truly inspiring.”

Being a part of the Jerry Awards has helped highlight and honor the powerful work of Whitefish Bay high school’s musical theater program while also helping the team constantly grow and flourish.

“The Jerry Awards have the potential to be that experience which helps a student recognize what they want to do with their life,” said Kind-Keppel who has three Whitefish Bay graduates now studying theater in New York, two of whom earned Outstanding Lead Performance Awards. “It’s part of an awakening for these students.”

Students benefit. Directors benefit. Schools benefit. And communities benefit from the Jerry Awards program.

“You see these students on the stage, telling a beautiful story, overcoming their fears, striving to reach their individual and collective potentials—and you realize how much time and effort is put into a show, and when you see them honored for this through the Jerry Awards, it’s pretty powerful,” said Kind-Keppel.

This year’s in-person Jerry Awards Show was rescheduled as a virtual program via Facebook Live. Kind-Keppel appreciated how Overture Center transformed the show to a virtual format due to the unprecedented health crisis.

“Overture did a wonderful job responding to the circumstances and was still able to honor the kids in a special way,” she said. “They did an expert job on the virtual presentation.”

Kind-Keppel believes theater changes lives, and for many students, it provides a way to create a meaningful high school experience. She says being involved in the Jerry Awards has been an extraordinary experience.

“The Jerry Awards allow schools from all around the state, regardless if they are small or large, well-funded or not, to engage in a process that heightens awareness of the important and powerful work that occurs in high school theater,” said Kind-Keppel. “Providing a platform to honor and celebrate the rich work of these high school theater programs is invaluable.”

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