Arts + Culture

SWFL Students Inspire at Young Artists Awards

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre hosted the 14th annual competition Monday evening.

BY March 7, 2017


Want to know what kids these days are up to?

Hint: It is not wasting time on screens large or small.

Not the young people appearing at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on Monday night, anyway. The 19 performers, finalists in the Young Artists Awards, clearly spend their free time in dance studios, practice rooms and empty theaters, honing their crafts. It would not surprise us to see them on screens in the future.

Marking its 14th year, the Young Artists Awards offer Southwest Florida students ages 8 to 21 a chance to compete for scholarships in voice, drama, dance and instrumental music. These finalists had earned their spots through open auditions held earlier this winter. (Full disclosure: I served as a dance judge.)

As in years past, these students shone—from the supple strength of dancer Sadie Reichenbach to the cherubic voice of Christian Miller to the rapid-fire Shakespearean spoof performed by Jennifer LaRue.

“This is our 14th year, and it seems the level of talent gets better every year,” says founder and executive director Katherine Boren. “It brings me great joy and satisfaction especially to see these kids grow up through our program.”

The big winner—the biggest in the program’s history—was Callie Atkinson, a Cypress Lake High School senior who won the contemporary voice division, the drama division, the audience choice award, as well as the judges’ overall award. She performed a piece from Chaplin: The Musical early in the evening, but it was arguably her monologue, the last performance of the night, that won over audience and judges alike. Atkinson portrayed  Mary, a street person featured in the play Bums who’s convinced she’s the author of the Bible and a victim of thieves who covet the contents of her bag (which include Tostitos as Communion wafers).

Atkinson was shocked by the multiple wins. She’d been battling a cold that had limited her ability to rehearse.

“Yesterday, I was freaking out,” Atkinson said, referring to Monday morning. “I still didn’t have my full voice. I felt like my head was 100 pounds.”

In addition to acting and singing at Cypress High, where she’s a member of the drama department and TAG—The A Capella Group, ranked fourth in the nation—Atkinson has landed several roles with Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. She intends to study musical theater in college.

“I love getting feedback from the audience,” she says. “Hearing people laugh or hearing people gasp is a sign that people are enjoying what you’re doing. You’re not just performing for yourself, you’re doing it for other people.”

Winning the music division was David Carlson, 15, a sophomore at the Mason Classical Academy in Naples. He performed several movements of Alberto Ginastera’s Twelve American Preludes, a contemporary piece so unfamiliar to audiences that Carlson with a wink and a wave signaled for viewers to hold off on applause in between movements.

“It feels pretty good—I didn’t really expect it,” Carlson said. “It’s nice to know all the hard work pays off eventually.”

He spent about six to seven months preparing the piece, studying under the instruction of Elena Bock. Carlson, also a violinist, plans to keep music as an integral part of his life, though his career interests fall in the realm of STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math.

The students, along with 10 runners-up, will share $26,000 in scholarship money that they can apply to their training. Atkinson, with $5,400 in earnings, says she’ll use hers to help pay college expenses.

Registration forms for the 2018 Young Artist Awards auditions will be released in late October.

Listed below are the winners in each age division. The overall winner for each genre is bolded.


Contemporary Voice/Musical Theatre

Christian Miller, 15

Kaatja Veldhuyzen van Zanten, 12

Callie Atkinson, 17


Instrumental Music

David Carlson, 15

Jason Cooper, 17


Classical Voice

Christian Miller, 15

Erica Sample 21



Eden Collier, 17

Sadie Reichenbach, 14



Jennifer LaRue, 13

Callie Atkinson, 17


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