Hero of the New York Musical Festival

Hero of the New York Musical Festival

What do you get when a student and faculty member write a musical together? A masterpiece.

An American Hero, a jazz-inspired musical whose script and music were co-written by Southeast graduate Cody Cole ’17, and Dr. Kenneth Stilson, chair of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, recently concluded its run at the New York Musical Festival (NYMF). The show received excellent reviews, won the “Best of Festival” award, as well as “Excellent Individual Performance Award” for junior musical theater major Adam Schween, and a special citation for University Excellence. The production’s design team also received a nomination for outstanding design.

“We are a first and in fantastic company,” said director and Southeast Professor Michael McIntosh. “I’m not aware if there has ever been a university production at the New York Musical Festival. Other NYMF shows have been staffed by professional actors, directors, and designers taking time off from Broadway shows and regional theatre.” McIntosh continues, “Our students gained valuable real-life work experience. While we model our conservatory productions on professional standards, nothing beats working in a legitimate, professional Off-Broadway production. There was much growth in students’ mindsets and professionalism.”

“You simply cannot buy this type of experiential learning,” says co-writer, Kenneth Stilson. “This will undoubtedly go a long way in helping these students launch their careers.”

Thirty-five students and faculty traveled to New York City to perform five productions of An American Hero as part of the 15th season of the NYMF.

“For many of the people involved in this production, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Stilson. “This is the largest and most important musical festival in the world, and not only did we get selected as an official entry, we brought home the ‘Best of Festival Award.’ How cool is that?”

The production had to raise over $80,000 for the eleven-day trip to New York. According to Stilson, this trip would not have been possible without huge support outside of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance.

“The University and community have been so generous. They really rallied around this project and these students, and we are really grateful to everyone.”

“I’m a very lucky person,” says Stilson. “I get to work with smart, talented, and beautiful young people. I like to think I’m making a positive difference in their lives; however, I don’t take this experience or any part of my job at the University for granted. I’m extremely appreciative to everyone at the University, as well as to our supporters in the community.”

As for what’s next for An American Hero, Stilson says, “We’re continuing to refine and promote it to producers and publishing houses. There’s a lot of positive press around the experience, and it will help us with all future marketing.”

Stilson continues, “As for The Conservatory, we have another crop of insanely talented students this fall. From here it’s upward and onward producing the next generation of professional artists on both coasts and across the country. This is a tremendous way to promote both The Conservatory and the University and will benefit the program for many years with both recruitment and retention.”

“Bringing An American Hero to New York City makes me feel incredibly proud of our students.  They’re talented, hard-working, professional, and prepared,” says McIntosh. “We don’t train people to do community theatre or to do theatre as a hobby; we train students to work in the theatre, to successfully get jobs, to be better than the competition. An American Hero in NYC proves that we’re doing something right.”


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