By Jacob Sturm
The fourth official year of the Kelli O’Hara Awards proved beneficial for the Mustang Public Schools Theatre Department and reaffirmed the quality of their program.
The Department won an award, 2022 Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble, and was nominated for Outstanding Performance Overall, for their production “Something Rotten” which the students performed after about eight weeks of practice.
The production combined students from theatre, choir and band.
Emily Farnham, the Mustang Theatre Teacher, said the feeling was amazing to see the recognition the program received.
“I think it feels pretty incredible,” Farnham said. “It’s just a testament to the students and the passion that they had for the show and for each other and the work and just their willingness to learn.”
The awards ceremony has been virtual multiple times in its four-year history due to COVID. Farnham said the event was held in person for only the second time when finalists got together on May 26.
This marked the first year Mustang’s Theatre Department has participated in the event, despite being offered the chance to apply and get involved in the previous years of the competition.
“I had been curious about it, but also it seemed like a lot of paperwork to fill out and things like that,” Farnham said. “Our new Performing Arts Center director, Samantha Waldrup, she was a theatre teacher at Classen and she said she applied for it and it wasn’t that difficult and we should give it a shot.”
After talking to the rest of her team, Farnham applied the program for the awards and didn’t think anything of it afterward. The competition sends adjudicators out to watch the shows (Farnham said various people came to watch) before they heard back from the competition in the weeks before school was out.
Caden McKenna, Griffin Murray and Jack Shottenkirk represented Mustang High School as finalists for the 2022 Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role award. Farnham assessed each of their years.
“(With) Caden, the first couple of ones that come to mind are delightful growth because this past year he had taken a break from theatre and from choir as a whole,” Farnham said. “And then this being his senior year, he decided he wanted to try again.”
McKenna ended up auditioning and playing the role of Shakespeare, a difficult and complicated role that he attacked with energy and courage. Farnham said he has a wonderful voice to couple with his portrayal.
“Griffin was a joy to work with,” Farnham said. “He always came very hungry, full of questions, completely willing to try regardless of how silly he felt. I saw him make lots of gains in terms of performance.”
Farnham mentioned last year’s mixed tape musical, which was a compilation of 12 different songs the choir teachers thought up. Only a couple of songs had choreography going with them.
She said she watched Murray fall in love with the art form during that time.
“He (Jack Shottenkirk) had a fun spunkiness that he brought to his role of Nostradamus,” Farnham said. “And again, that delightful quirkiness, he was definitely willing to play with his character, and I think that was one of the things I appreciate about his portrayal.”
Shottenkirk also competed in regionals in competitive acting in the OSSAA.
Mike Pham, was also recognized as a Spotlight Award Winner at the Kelli O’Hara awards. That means the adjudicators were impressed with his performance even though he couldn’t be considered for lead actor recognition.
Pham was the understudy for the “Nick” character (played by Griffin Murray).
“We thought that was really cool that after all the hard work that he put in learning both of the roles, that he was recognized for his artistry,” Farnham said. “He did an impressive job on and off the stage.”
Credit is also necessary for the Performing Arts Center, which opened up new avenues for the theatre department to use in “Something Rotten.” That includes creative background projections instead of scenery moving in and out.
Farnham credited the sound system, calling it the best sounding musical the department has ever done.
“Overall, the team and I are just really proud of the job that they did, and we were proud of how they represented Mustang when we went to the Kelli O’Hara’s,” Farnham said.