Jerry Ensemble seniors announce their university decisions

Jerry Ensemble performing in 2019

“I feel that the discipline I gained from the Jerry Ensemble carried over into other areas of my life, contributing to my academic success. I am so grateful for this experience.”


The 16 graduating members of Overture Center’s Jerry Ensembles, two premier musical performance groups representing the Jerry Awards, have declared their post-high school education plans. Eleven of the seniors are pursing degrees in the performing arts.

“It’s extremely competitive to get accepted into a performing arts program,” said Gail Becker, director of the Southern Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble. “Students must go through a lengthy audition process, which is usually 8-10 months of grueling preparation, study, research, travel, polishing, material searching, training, coaching and, finally, performing.”

The accomplished singers of the Jerry Ensemble participate in the group 1-3 years each, delighting audiences with songs from musical theater classic gems, singing the National Anthem at sporting events and performing solos, duets, trios and more. According to Overture’s Programming & Community Engagement Manager Karra Beach, performing live with the ensemble helps students develop poise and confidence while building technical skills in acting, singing and dancing.

According to Becker, one of the biggest challenges for the Jerry Ensemble during the pandemic was the absence of visibility. The students are accustomed to being at Overture, in front of audiences, starting Badgers games with the National Anthem, singing for donors and entertaining subscribers. They recorded a few numbers that were used for special virtual events, but she says, singing together and hearing each other live is incomparable.

Alex Daspit of McFarland High School enjoyed her experience. “My favorite part of the Jerry Ensemble was getting so many performance opportunities,” she said. “I believe that the Jerry Ensemble sharpened my musicianship as both a solo performer and as part of an ensemble.”

Reagan Kettner, DC Everest Senior High School, added, “Being a part of the Ensemble, one of the biggest skills I’ve gained is choosing audition music and being able to work on a deadline. I’ve also learned music in a short amount of time.”

Clare O’Connell of DeForest Area High School gained important life skills, too. “The Jerry Ensemble required me to be very independent and self-motivated. Being in a group of such talented musicians motivated me to become a better musician myself. I feel that the discipline I gained from the Jerry Ensemble carried over into other areas of my life, contributing to my academic success. I am so grateful for this experience,” she said.

In the university acceptance process, students are accepted into a university academically, and then they must be separately accepted into the theater or music program, which requires live auditions either at the school or at one of three National Unified Audition locations: Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. There are usually 30-40 schools at the Unified Auditions, which allows students to audition for numerous university programs in one location over the course of a few days.

“Keep in mind, because of the thousands of students vying for 12-20 available slots in a program, odds of acceptance are slim,” said Becker. “Students audition for 12-14 schools during an audition season. They typically prepare two musical pieces and two monologues to perform; however, many have 6-7 pieces in their audition book, ready at a moment’s notice. This takes months of practice and getting it just right, picking the perfect songs, fine tuning the best monologues, so they can stand out and show their best self. It’s all about being unique and genuine.”

Flynn Marcus of Madison West High Schools noted, “Over the last few months, I had 28 live Zoom auditions. Each one was completely different, and I never knew exactly what to expect from the auditors. My experience in the Jerry Ensemble gave me the skills to think on my feet, to pivot with different material and to accept coaching and criticism. I’m so grateful for the training I received that prepared me for this next adventure!”

Summarizing his experience, Arik Zintel, Oregon High School, said, “Through my participation in the Jerry Ensemble, my musical and performance skills were vastly improved. The Ensemble works on short time scales, so I honed my ability to learn and perform music in short amounts of time, and with the vast number of performance opportunities I got more comfortable onstage.”

Zachary Tadiello, Lakeland Union High School, agrees it was a valuable experience. “I think that the biggest skills I have learned from being part of the Ensemble is being more comfortable performing on stage with no one else and also performing in front of a camera. I have also learned how to teach myself music and be more confident in my own ability to comprehend music.”

According to Becker, “These students have approached the college application process with positive energy, gratitude and grace. I’m very proud of all my students who tackle this journey. It’s not perfect, and it’s sometimes not fun, but we, who are performing artists in our souls, know it’s the only way. It’s our passion and nothing will stop us from pursuing it.”

Olivia Mathis from Wausau West High School, said, “I am so thankful to have been in the Central Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble for three years, as it not only allowed me to meet some of my best friends, but it taught me the value of telling a story when you sing. At its core, musical theatre is the art of storytelling, and Jerry Ensemble helped me understand that. I will always remember everything this group taught me, and I’ll miss performing with some my closest friends throughout the year.”

Following is a list of the Jerry Ensemble seniors and where they will be attending college:

SOUTHERN WISCONSIN JERRY ENSEMBLE

  • Alexandra Asmuth, Madison Country Day School – American University, Musical Theatre
  • Alex Daspit, McFarland High School – Webster University, Musical Theatre
  • Laetitia Hollard, McFarland High School – The Julliard School, Acting
  • Flynn Marcus, Madison West High School – Syracuse University, Acting and Singing
  • Clare O’Connell, DeForest Area High School – Fordham University, Music and Political Science
  • John Stuntebeck – McFarland High School – unknown
  • Arik Zintel, Oregon High School – Marquette University

CENTRAL WISCONSIN JERRY ENSEMBLE

  • Robert Alston, DC Everest Senior High School – Viterbo University, Musical Theater
  • Reagan Kettner, DC Everest Senior High School – Viterbo University, Musical Theater
  • Max Koepke, DC Everest Senior High School – gap year in Chicago to pursue a music and songwriting career
  • Ashlyn Lewis, DC Everest Senior High School – Lawrence University, Biochemistry (Pre-Med Track) and Theatre Arts
  • Olivia Mathis, Wausau West High School – Institute for American Musical Theatre
  • Anna Montgomery, Antigo High School – UW-LaCrosse, Theatre Arts and Arts Administration
  • Ella Montgomery, Antigo High School – UW-Stevens Point, Social Work
  • Zachary Tadiello, Lakeland Union High School – Augsburg University, Musical Theatre
  • Anna Weis, Marshfield High School – University of Minnesota, undecided

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