Jerry Awards positively impact students, directors, communities

Sarah Karlen

“Overture’s community outreach and education programs are even more important than its Broadway shows. The free and low-cost programs get kids to come to Overture when most wouldn’t otherwise have that chance. It opens young people up to the arts in ways we wouldn’t have if not for Overture.”


“Overture’s Jerry Awards program provides many different opportunities for our theater and music students to gain experience and receive feedback that, as a small private school, we would not be able to offer on our own,” said Sarah Karlen, who has directed theater at Abundant Life Christian School in Madison since 2007 and participated in the Jerry Awards since the program’s inception in 2009/10.

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 at more than 85 high schools in 30 counties around the state. Students at participating high schools can participate in The Jerry Ensemble, become a student critic and receive special ticket deals to Broadway and other performances.

Karlen appreciates Overture offering a local program in which students can learn from real costume designers and sound technicians and talk about careers in theater. She notes that it’s a huge benefit to have these learning opportunities and to connect with students from other schools.

“Students in the Jerry Awards and Jerry Ensemble come together and share the same passions. They’re working together, not against each other. They become friends and support each other,” she said.

As a director, Karlen often looks back on a show to see what went well and what could have been better, but admits she has a biased perspective. That’s why comments from Jerry Awards’ reviewers are so important.

“The Jerry Awards provides real feedback in real time from people who know what they’re talking about,” she said. “The reviewers tell us what was good and what to work on next year. It’s helpful to apply their feedback as we go forward.”

Karlen says the connections provided through the Jerry Awards program are extremely beneficial. She can reach out to Overture or other schools in the program for needed items and knowledge. Plus, through conferences and workshops, she learns new things about theater and ways to improve her school’s productions.

“Overture gives our faculty and students the opportunity to gain from their knowledge base,” she said.

She encourages the community to support the Jerry Awards because the program offers an opportunity for students who are interested in music and theater to excel and succeed when there aren’t many programs that do this.

“It’s a good feeling to know the Jerry Awards’ team will be there to give us feedback and make suggestions—and to show us they value what we’re doing,” she said.

Karlen understands that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic we need to look at new ways of doing things, and Overture exemplifies how to do that.

“Overture is living up to its mission, which helps us teachers live up to our mission,” she said. “It’s helpful to know somebody is on our side and cares about our work.”

Karlen is quick to emphasize Overture’s importance to the community.

“Overture’s community outreach and education programs are even more important than its Broadway shows,” she said. “The free and low-cost programs get kids to come to Overture when most wouldn’t otherwise have that chance. It opens young people up to the arts in ways we wouldn’t have if not for Overture.”

She values Overture’s dedication to its mission to support and elevate our community’s creative culture, economy and quality of life through the arts.

“Art matters!” said Karlen. “During this pandemic, we continue to turn to art—recorded performances, Netflix, music, paintings. It’s part of our humanity and what we need most in times of struggle. Through art, we can tell our story and understand others. Art brings people together and gives us what we need most. Overture’s ability to bring us encouragement, excitement and passion through the arts during these times of uncertainty is crucial.”

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