Two Long Islanders are about to have their moment in the spotlight at the July 15 Jimmy Awards, which recognize excellence in theater arts at schools.
Elmont Memorial High School teacher Benjamin Pesenti will receive the Inspiring Teacher Award. Also in attendance will be Wantagh High School senior Katriana Koppe, the female recipient of the Roger Rees Award for Excellence in Student Performance, the regional theater award for high schoolers in the metropolitan area. Koppe's win qualifies her to compete against other regional student award winners from around the country for best female performance at the Jimmy Awards. The ceremony, usually held in Manhattan, will be streamed this year.
The Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, recognize student achievement in singing, acting and dancing, as well as the work of educators. The awards have been presented by The Broadway League Foundation since 2009.
Every year, the mentors of the previous year’s Jimmy Award winners are honored with the Inspiring Teacher Award. Pesenti, who has been at Elmont since 2012 and teaches high school chorus, AP music theory and general music, was the voice teacher of Ekele Ukegbu, the female recipient of the Jimmy Award in 2019 for her performance in "Aida." Andrew Barth Feldman won the award in 2018 for his performance in "Catch Me If You Can" at Lawrence Woodmere Academy, went on to star in "Dear Evan Hansen" on Broadway in 2019.
The award caps a rough teaching year for Pesenti due to the coronavirus pandemic. "All teachers had to rethink what they do this year and think outside the box, and challenge themselves to be creative," he said.
Those challenges included teaching via Zoom and dealing with audio delays and technical glitches. "I’m really proud of my students for making the best of the situation and not letting the time pass us by," he said. "We were productive this year, and we made a lot of music."
The high school was able to perform its annual musical production two weeks before lockdown began in 2020, Pesenti said, and around that time he was interviewed for a video that will air during the ceremony.
Wantagh's Koppe played the titular role in "Cinderella" this year. During rehearsals, she made sure to stay in her "own little corner" — students had to socially distance and wear masks on stage.
"We had to learn how to tell the story with the top half of our faces and voice inflections, rather than our whole face," said Koppe, 18. "And it was kind of hard to waltz without touching each other."
But the experience ended up being a lot of fun, she said. The show was filmed and will be streamed by Wantagh High School Saturday through Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased at showtix4u.com.
Koppe started performing when she was 10, after seeing "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway and proclaiming Christine Daaé as her dream role. For the Jimmy Awards, she filmed herself singing two songs, answering interview questions and performing dance choreography.
She'll study musical theater at Pace University this fall. Until then, Koppe is looking forward to seeing what the virtual Jimmy Awards ceremony will be like.
"Now that I have a chance at winning, it feels so unreal," she said. "It’s like a dream. I’m so grateful for everything."