The New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Enchantment Awards, recognizes individual artistry in performance. It also honors teachers and their schools’ commitment to performing arts education. Every year the program presents talented young performers with a unique opportunity to advance their education and careers in musical theater, all while supporting the inclusion of musical theater performance in our state’s high schools.
Terry Davis is co-executive director of the New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards and co-producer of the Enchantment Awards, titles he shares with Laura A. Maness. The awards were first produced live at UNM’s Popejoy Hall in 2016. “That was the first year we sent two students from New Mexico to the Jimmy Awards in New York,” says Davis. The Jimmy Awards are the National High School Musical Theater Awards and are produced by the Broadway League, which also produces the Tony Awards.
Shortly after their creation, the Enchantment Awards experienced a major setback. According to Davis, “In 2016 the State of New Mexico had its severe budget crisis and took back every nickel it could find from state budgets. New programs could not continue in that environment.” Undaunted, Davis and others found a way. “Those of us who had worked on the program in its first year took the program outside and set up a separate nonprofit organization to continue this work, with Popejoy’s blessing.”
In 2020 the awards suffered another setback, going on hiatus due to the COVID lockdown. But on May 7 of this year, 20 of the best young actors in our state were invited to assemble, once again, at Popejoy Hall. Each was given personal coaching and professional rehearsal time in order to show off their skills. “They work individually and as a company to help create an awards show that celebrates the accomplishments of students, teachers and the drama programs they represent,” explains Davis. “Some of the students we saw this year had never been to Albuquerque. Most had never performed on a professional stage.”
“It was nice working with people who care so much about the arts and entertainment,” says Matthew Evans Taylor from Organ Mountain High School in Las Cruces. “We had online and in-person rehearsals leading up to the event. We put multiple hours into our choreography, acting and singing for our solos.” That effort paid off. At the end of the night, Taylor was named Best Actor—alongside Brooke Caperton from Albuquerque Academy, who locked down Best Actress.
“When my performance for my solo came, one of my fellow actors came up to me beforehand and told me to show the audience why I should go to New York. His words filled me with determination,” recalls Taylor. Caperton had a similar experience and says she “expected the awards to be extremely competitive. But as I met more people, the awards felt more like a team effort. I remember after singing my solo, all of the other nominees were standing in the wings and cheering for me.” For her part, Caperton “enjoyed every, sometimes stressful, moment.”
Davis says the two teenage performers were “among the top 20 students selected to perform in our awards show from high school productions we adjudicated across the state.” At the Popejoy performance, the two teens “each earned the highest scores from our panel of judges who all have Broadway, film and/or international credits.” Their next stop: A working trip to Broadway. Taylor and Caperton now head to New York City to share a stage at the Jimmy Awards with 90 other aspiring young actors from across the U.S. on June 27.
“Students who go to New York spend a week working with Broadway professionals and performing on a Broadway stage with dozens of their peers from across the country, all winners of regional awards programs like ours.” says Davis. “While the week culminates in the show performed live in the Minskoff Theater in New York, the week ahead of the show is its own reward for every student participating. They get to rehearse a professional production and perform on a professional stage in New York. They receive personal coaching from Broadway professionals. They attend workshops led by Broadway stars. They each perform a solo before a panel of judges that includes talent agents, Broadway producers and Broadway directors. The education they get from their week in New York is unmatched by any other program we’ve seen.”
“I am extremely excited to travel with Matthew Taylor and represent New Mexico on a Broadway stage,” says Caperton. The Jimmy Awards on June 27 will cap off Taylor’s first trip to the Big Apple. “I am looking forward to making connections with Broadway actors, actresses, agents, etc. I am looking forward to giving another splendid performance. I can’t wait to meet the other Best Actors and Actresses,” says the graduating senior. “I am excited to see the city. I am excited to entertain.”
This trip to Broadway is a great opportunity and could be the start of something big for these two up-and-coming New Mexico entertainers. “Our first year, Devon McCleskey from Los Alamos was chosen as our Best Actor and then won the award for Best Performance in an Ensemble at the Jimmy Awards,” says Davis. “Devon has since graduated from the University of Michigan and is now touring the United States in Pretty Woman starring Adam Pascal.”