Seniors recognized at state level for musical theatre


Ansley Kopp

McCauley and Kopp together at a rehearsal for POPS, a production put on by Milford’s vocal music department.

Laura Nowicki, Managing Editor

For the past three years, the Milford Theatre Company has participated in the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards, a competition that determines the most skilled male and female high school performers in Michigan. This year, seniors Ansley Kopp and Hunter McCauley have been selected to represent Milford High School and have a chance at winning one of the highest honors in musical theatre at the high school level.

Only 25 schools are eligible to audition for the awards each year, which is done on a first-come-first-serve basis. Across the state, schools race to earn a spot. Any school that puts on an eligible musical theater production before a cutoff date can sign up. The 25 schools that are chosen have their leading performers audition for a panel of judges. The best male and female actors are selected, making a total of 50 nominees.

This year, due to COVID-19 complications, the audition and award show process is completely online. Rather than performing in front of judges, applicants had to submit a video of themselves singing a solo from the musical. MTC is performing Zombie Prom, so Kopp and McCauley chose songs that their characters, Toffee and Jonny, sing on their own. “I sang ‘Easy to Say,’ which is one of Toffee’s songs in the show. I did three takes to find a balance between acting and vocals,” Kopp explained. “Four of us auditioned, and it took about two and a half hours to finally get takes that we liked. Hunter and I are even refilming ours for the second round of auditions so that they are the best possible takes that we are confident are our best performances.”

The judges carefully study the footage in order to identify star performers like Kopp and McCauley. “The judges have to look for the best all-around performance,” began McCauley. “They take all aspects into play: singing, acting, dancing, and stage presence.”

The two found out that they were selected while on their way to rehearsal, and both were, understandably so, ecstatic. “When I got the text, I yelled ‘WHAT??’” Kopp exclaimed, nearly jumping out of her seat with enthusiasm. “It totally shocked me. This was only my second production ever, so it’s crazy. I totally didn’t think I would get it at all. It’s nuts.” McCauley shared similar feelings about the news: “I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t get selected because my voice wasn’t 100 percent, so when I found out that I did, I was so excited and relieved.”

Now that Kopp and McCauley have been nominated, they are required to undergo a second round of auditions before the winners are announced. The second round is much more extensive; performers are asked to submit musical theatre resumes, another video clip, a headshot, a bio, an essay, and answer a series of questions. “The toughest part of the process for me has been re-recording my video,” said McCauley. “We didn’t have much time to do it, but hopefully it will work out in the end.”

Kopp, however, thinks that the most challenging part is not the audition itself, but waiting to hear the results. “It sounds ridiculous, but the waiting has been so hard for me; the anticipation is insane,” Kopp explained. “Waiting to see if I’m a finalist is going to be tough. I do mental gymnastics quite a lot, see-sawing back and forth between being confident and thinking that I have no shot. I’m constantly thinking about it.”

If attending the Ovation Awards wasn’t enough of a honor itself, the two winners move onto the Jimmy Awards, which recognize the top high school performers in the country. “If you make it to the Jimmys, your chances of making it on Broadway are so much higher. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Kopp exclaimed. “I think my chances are pretty slim, but I’m not letting myself think about it too much because being nominated for the Ovations is insane in itself. The Jimmys would be nuts, but then again, nothing is impossible. I didn’t even think I had a chance at getting Toffee, my role in Zombie Prom, so anything could happen.”

Throughout the entire process, participating students have put their faith in MTC Director Megan Weeks, who has prepared, motivated, and nurtured Milford’s theatre students since the beginning. “[Weeks] is the one that signed us up and has been so adamant about giving us this opportunity,” said Kopp. “She’s been excited about it for a while. She prepares us while also making us feel confident in ourselves and our performances. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to do this at all.”

No matter what the outcome is, McCauley and Kopp, who have both been dedicated to theatre and vocal music for many years, are thankful to end their high school careers on a high note. “Being nominated makes me feel like I’m doing something good– something right,” McCauley explained. “I’m grateful to be acknowledged for what I’m doing and the hard work that I’ve put in.”

Being recognized at a state-wide and potentially nationwide level is nothing less than a dream come true for theatre students who dream of a life on Broadway. “I love doing theatre; it’s one of my favorite things in the world,” said Kopp. “This opportunity is surreal. It’s a bit emotional because I’ve doubted myself for so many years; it’s so fulfilling to know that I’m on the right track.”