Jerry Ensemble Seniors Announce Their University Decisions









The 16 graduating members of The Grand Theater’s and Overture Center’s Jerry Ensembles, two premier musical performance groups representing the Jerry Awards, have declared their post-high school education plans. Thirteen of the seniors are pursing degrees in the performing arts.

“It’s extremely competitive to get accepted into a performing arts program,” said Gail Becker, director of the Southern Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble. “Students must go through a lengthy audition process, which is usually 8-10 months of grueling preparation, study, research, travel, polishing, material searching, training, coaching and, finally, performing.”

The accomplished singers of the Jerry Ensemble participate in the group 1-3 years each, delighting audiences with songs from musical theater classic gems, singing the National Anthem at sporting events and performing solos, duets, trios and more. According to Overture’s Programming & Community Engagement Manager Karra Beach, performing live with the ensemble helps students develop poise and confidence while building technical skills in acting, singing, and dancing.

“One of my favorite things about being in Jerry Ensemble is that I’m able to do the thing I love and make great friends while doing it!” said Ethan Hanson, DC Everest Senior High School. “The biggest skill I gained from being in the Jerry Ensemble is having the self-discipline to work on things daily and improve upon myself.”

Lauren Harkness of Whitewater High School gained important life skills, too. “Getting to perform all over Madison, especially Overture Hall, has been rewarding and exciting. I learned how to be flexible and to always say yes to challenges,” she said.

In the university acceptance process, students are accepted into a university academically, and then they must be separately accepted into the theater or music program, which requires live auditions either at the school or at one of three National Unified Audition locations: Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. There are usually 30-40 schools at the Unified Auditions, which allows students to audition for numerous university programs in one location over the course of a few days.

“Keep in mind, because of the thousands of students vying for 12-20 available slots in a program, odds of acceptance are slim,” said Becker. “Students audition for 12-14 schools during an audition season. They typically prepare two musical pieces and two monologues to perform; however, many have 6-7 pieces in their audition book, ready at a moment’s notice. This takes months of practice and getting it just right, picking the perfect songs, fine tuning the best monologues, so they can stand out and show their best self. It’s all about being unique and genuine.”

Parnassus Funk of Madison West High School agrees it’s important to be genuine. He stated, “The Ensemble showed me that the best thing you can bring to the table at any audition is you. If you are kind and easy to work with, your path to success will be a lot easier!”

Summarizing his experience, Tristin Thompson, Lakeland Union High School, said, “Participation in a performance-heavy group like the Jerry Ensemble strengthened my artistic résumé and gave me practical experience in learning material quickly and collaborating with other artists, all of which was very useful in my college audition process.”

Ava DeCroix of Middleton High School agrees it was a valuable experience. She noted,As a member of the Jerry Ensemble, I’ve been introduced to some of the more professional aspects of the performance world, such as networking, behind-the-scenes technology and a fast-paced rehearsal process. I definitely feel that these experiences prepared me for success in both performance and other fields at the college level.”

Following is a list of the Jerry Ensemble seniors and where they will be attending college:


Riya Bolander
Marshfield High SchoolState University of New York Binghamton,
Psychology and Music
Ethan Hanson
DC Everest Senior HighNorth Dakota State University,
Musical Theatre
Isabella Kneeland
Antigo High SchoolSaint Norbert College,
Maegan Mansfield
Northland Pines High SchoolUW-Milwaukee,
Jarreth Schaefer
Marshfield High School

UW-Stevens Point,
English Education

Somerset Seymer
Northland Pines High School

UW-Eau Claire,

Tristin Thompson
Lakeland Union High School

Oklahoma City University,
Musical Theatre


  • Ava DeCroix, Middleton High School – Notre Dame (Glynn Scholar), Voice Performance and Computer Science
  • Emma Dias, Waunakee High School – Marquette University or DePaul University, Voice and Theatre
  • Julian Engle, Middleton High School – DePaul University, Film and Television Production
  • Olivia Foght, Waunakee High School – Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Musical Theatre
  • Parnassus Funk, Madison West High School – Webster University, Musical Theatre (deferred until 2021)
  • Lauren Harkness, Whitewater High School – UW Milwaukee, Voice and Public Relations
  • Kyle Kapusta, Oregon High School – Millikin University, Musical Theatre
  • Jamal Stone, Sun Prairie High School – Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Musical Theatre
  • Gabriella Unitan, Stoughton High School – UW Madison, undecided

“These students have approached the college application process with positive energy, gratitude and grace,” said Becker. “I’m very proud of all my students who tackle this journey. It’s not perfect, and it’s sometimes not fun, but we, who are performing artists in our souls, know it’s the only way. It’s our passion and nothing will stop us from pursuing it.”

According to Jamal Stone of Sun Prairie High School, “Any experience is good experience and the Jerry Ensemble provides just that. Being a part of the group is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

The Jerry Awards is a high school musical awards program that encourages, recognizes and honors excellence in high school musical theater. The program began in the 2009/10 school year with 23 productions within 45 miles of Madison and has since expanded across the state through partnerships with Marcus Performing Arts Center, The Grand Theater, and Viterbo University Fine Arts Center. Educators and industry professionals review productions at Wisconsin high schools and/or community theater organizations and provide valuable feedback to students. In its first decade, the Jerry Awards engaged more than 700,000 students, teachers, theater professionals and community members and has grown into a nationally recognized showcase of the brightest stars in Wisconsin high school musical theater.

Students in participating high schools can participate in the Central Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble or the Southern Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble, the premier performance groups representing the Jerry Awards. Students are selected through auditions each year. The Central Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble is directed by Marshall DeLonay and the Southern Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble is directed by Gail Becker.

Virtual auditions for the 2020-21 Central Wisconsin Jerry Ensemble are open now. Click here for more information.

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