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Blumenthal Arts
Winter 2024
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Where are they now?
8 Blumey Awards Alums Prove You Don’t Have to Win to Go Far
Maya Sistruck, third from left, was nominated for Blumey Awards in 2017 (Best Actress) and 2018 (Best Supporting Actress).
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
You’ve probably heard about amazing Blumey Awards winners who have gone on to success on Broadway and national tours, film and TV. But did you know there are also tons of Blumey alums who didn’t walk away with the top prize but who have also gone on to pursue their dreams?
For many, The Blumey Awards program was a steppingstone on the way to a wide range of incredible achievements and careers in the arts and entertainment industry. Here’s a look at what some of these talented Blumey Awards alums have been up to.
Will Branner made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of the new Broadway musical Back to the Future.
Charlotte Latin alumnus Will Branner was a Best Actor nominee at the inaugural Blumey Awards in 2012. The actor/director has been busy with numerous projects. He was part of the first national tour of Mean Girls and has won several awards for filmmaking through his production company Dawg Paw Productions. Most recently, he made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of the new Broadway musical Back to the Future now playing at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre.
Naiylah Gardner on "American Idol."
Naiylah Gardner, formerly of Northwest School of the Arts, was a Best Featured Performer nominee in 2018. You may have spotted her and her gorgeous voice last spring on ABC’s hit show, “American Idol.” Using the name Nailyah Serenity on the show, she made it to the series’ Top 20 round.
Tessa Giordano performs as Leading Player in Pippin for the 2018 Blumey Awards. She was nominated three years in a row for the Best Actress, including that year.
Providence Day School grad Tessa Giordano was nominated three years in a row for the Best Actress Blumey Award, including in 2018 for Leading Player in Pippin. Although she didn’t nab that award, she did win a 2017 University of North Carolina School of the Arts Drama Intensive Award and has gone on to other exciting endeavors. She received her bachelor's in fine arts in musical theatre performance from the University of Oklahoma last spring and was an intern in Blumenthal’s development department. She is now attending Georgetown Law and says musical theater has been a key part of her success. “It gave me a community and it gave me a sense of confidence and poise that I don’t know I would have had as naturally if I had not been participating in theater my whole life.”
For Brittany Hoffman, Blumenthal’s programming general manager, gaining experience in technical theater and participating in The Blumey Awards were also key steps to her career success. The Providence Day School alumna was nominated for Best Costume Creation in 2014 and 2015.
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Brittany Hoffman
“I knew that I never wanted to be onstage,” she said. “I was more of a shy, introverted high schooler, but I loved the idea of being able to help make the theater come to life, and doing that as a backstage technical person seemed to be the best way to do that to express my creativity.” She studied art history at Duke University, worked as a production assistant on the national tour of Disney’s The Lion King, and spent several years working in booking and programming roles in New York before returning to Charlotte. “The Blumey Awards was the most instrumental program that I ever participated in in high school,” she says. “It helped me grow as a leader, as a community member of the Charlotte theater scene … gave me confidence.”
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Thomas Laub, center, performs in the 2015 Blumey Awards ceremony.
Thomas Laub, another Providence Day School alumnus, has also built on his strong Charlotte theater roots to land a big role behind the scenes of many current hit shows. The 2014 and 2015 Best Actor nominee is the founder of Runyonland Productions, which he started while still a student at the University of Michigan. The company produces on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in cities across the country. Some of his latest productions include Tony Award® winners Parade, A Doll’s House, Gutenberg! which opened on Broadway this fall, and the new revival of The Wiz, which is selling out in cities around the country before opening on Broadway this spring. Outside of theater producing, he also works for Apple TV+ in studio strategy.
Central Academy of Technology and Arts alumna Nkeki Obi-Melekwe was nominated for best actress in the 2013 and 2014 Blumey Awards. She attended the University of Michigan’s musical theater program and performed locally in Charlotte Squawks before going on to star in the West End and Broadway productions of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. She was recently part of the cast of “King Shaka,” originally set to be a Showtime limited series. According to a recent Variety article, the show is currently being shopped to other potential networks.
Professional actor John Pope was a 2012 Blumey Awards Best Actor nominee and a 2013 Mary Doctor Performing Arts Scholarship recipient. The Marvin Ridge High School and NYU Tisch School of the Arts alumnus has recently appeared in Season 3 of “Star Trek: Picard,” “FBI: Most Wanted” and the film God’s Time.
John Pope
He told Blumenthal recently: “There’s nothing more valuable than studying the thing that you love. It feeds into anything that you want to do.”
Maya Sistruck, formerly of Northwest School of the Arts, is an actor, model, and writer. She was nominated for Blumey Awards in 2017 (Best Actress) and 2018 (Best Supporting Actress).
Maya Sistruck
The University of Michigan alumna earned a bachelor’s in fine arts in musical theater with a minor in creative writing. She has published multiple works of fiction and poetry and was recently in the ensemble of the world premiere musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby at Paper Mill Playhouse. ◼
Do you have more stories of Blumey Awards alums and the cool things they are up to? Please tag us on social media with #BlumeyAlumsGoFar and let us know!