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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Applause and Accolades: Westwood Theater Brings Home First-Ever Heller Award

Courtesy of George Franco
On the red carpet outside the Long Center, 44 members of the Mean Girls production cast and crew pose before the Heller Award ceremony. In addition to a red carpet event and photo session, the ceremony included 18 award categories and multiple musical performances to honor high school musical theater in the Austin area.

At the red carpet ceremony at the Long Center on Thursday, April 17, Westwood Musical Theater was honored for seven nominations and received one award from the Heller Awards for Young Artists. 

The ceremony featured performances from the Heller Awards’ Select Ensemble as well as from the companies nominated for Best Production. Hosted by Heller Award alumni and professional performers Jessica O’Brien and Donelvan Thigpen, the three-hour event presented 18 different awards, spanning categories for performance, design, and overall execution.

I am super proud of our show, and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to take home Westwood’s first Heller.

— Natalie Berkaw '25

“It was so fun to get to watch all the other schools and get to meet theater kids from all over the Austin area,” attendee Jenna Hallidy ‘25 said.

Members of the Select Ensemble, an audition-based company of high school performers from the Austin area, rehearsed with director and choreographer Ginger Morris throughout the year to perform choreography for both the award nomination livestream and the final ceremony. Westwood performers Elliott Richards ‘26, Vivian Toney ‘26, Kyra Jackson ‘24, and Kayla Contello ‘24 all participated in the Select Ensemble.

“I auditioned in the beginning of the year, and then we built up to the ceremony where we performed three numbers,” Contello said. “Everything you do in Select is auditioning every day, and not just in the sense of monitoring behavior, but they have featured dance sections where they make everyone learn [the combo] and they only keep three people, so every time you go to rehearsal you have to be prepared, which can be a lot, but it’s taught me a lot [as well].”

In addition to the Select Ensemble, two representatives from each school  performed in the finale number, an original song created for the ceremony. The performance honored each school and showcased the range of participating productions.

“I got to watch all the [best production] numbers [for] the Hellers before they were actually performed [at the ceremony],” Contello said. “So I got to see all their processes as well, which was a lot of fun. The best part was honestly just performing and hearing that initial wave of applause, because it’s just different from anything you’ve experienced before.”

For many attendees, a highlight of the night was each Best Production nominee’s performance of a number from their show. Round Rock, Dripping Springs, Vista Ridge, Leander, Rouse, Lehman, and Jack C. Hays High Schools as well as Zach Academy all took to the stage to showcase their performers.

“I really enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of choreo,” student choreographer and attendee Yeva Tcharikova ‘24 said. “Especially the ones that were simpler [and] looked more clean for a bigger cast. It’s not discouraging [at all], it’s really cool to see the range.”

In addition to outstanding performance and execution awards, the Hellers also designate three Student Achievement Awards for Design, Marketing, and Stage Management. For these awards, directors from participating schools nominate students who then create portfolios throughout the year and submit them for consideration from the judges. At this year’s ceremony, student marketing director Natalie Berkaw ‘25 won Westwood’s first-ever Heller Award for Student Achievement in Marketing.

“I was really scared when we were waiting for who was gonna be announced, so when I heard my name it was a lot of relief and excitement at the same time,” Berkaw said. “I am super proud of our show and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to take home Westwood’s first Heller.”

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About the Contributor
Sabrina Kim
Sabrina Kim, Heritage Section Editor
Class of 2025 I’ve been obsessed with writing for as long as I’ve been retaining memories, and I’m unbelievably excited to get to write for the Horizon and work for the Heritage. I’m almost as—if not equally—enthusiastic about design, speculative fiction, traditional and digital art, playing guitar, volleyball, crocheting and knitting, consuming every kind of food and drink, learning languages, crosswords, having unreasonably strong opinions about everything, and Westwood Theatre, in no particular order. Some might say I do too much. They’re probably right.

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    SerenaMay 21, 2024 at 12:30 pm

    Congratulations to Westwood Musical Theater for this great honor. I love how there were many people interviewed to make this story so detailed, and I can tell that they are extremely proud of their hard work.