Get to know the Spotlight Award finalists for Best Actress and Best Actor

Spotlight finalists Michael Dunaway, Tiyanna Gentry, Will Ryan, Hannah Sloas, Sevon Askew, and Addison McFarlin

On May 4, the Spotlight Award finalists for Best Actress and Best Actor met for the first time in TPAC’s Johnson Theater. Tiyanna Gentry, Addison McFarlin, Hannah Sloas, Savon Askew, Michael Dunaway, and Will Ryan gathered at TPAC to learn more about  the Spotlight Awards, film their audition videos, and find out what happens if they win. In June, the Best Actress and Best Actor winners fly to New York City to compete in the Jimmy Awards, the National High School Theatre Awards. Last year, our two winners, Hattie King and Nathan Keffer, both made it to the Top Eight! We sat down with each finalist to learn a little more about them before they hit the stage this Saturday.

 

Tiyanna Gentry – Hillsboro High School

Tiyanna Gentry

How did you get involved with theater?

I didn’t know anything about theater until my choir teacher told me that I should try out for the school musical, Godspellwhich I knew nothing about. I ended up trying out, and I was lucky enough to be on the callback list. It was an amazing experience from then on. I thank my choir teacher for getting me involved!

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

It’d have to be The Witch, the role I recently played because a student, my friend Sydney, designed it. She hand ripped a whole bunch of rags and cloth and sewed them together into a fringe-type thing, and it was amazing, I loved it!

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

In Godspellyou kind of play yourself with characteristics of the philosophy you believe in. I was a very cynical and fun woman, It was fun to play.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

I always drink a lot of water, and I try to take some time for myself to really feel the energy of my character. I go through all the mindsets and objectives that my character goes through in her scenes. I take the time to regain my focus and realize what I’m here for.

What inspires you as an artist? 

A lot of things inspire me! People inspire me. Talent always inspires me to push forward and be a better person. People that are different; people that are eccentric and standout from others inspire me like “Wow, they’re onstage doing their own thing, I wish I could be that person!”

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

I think my Dad would play me if it was a non-gender heavy show because he’s identical to me. We have the same nose and same things that we go through. The name of the musical would be The Dramatic Tales of Tiyanna and her Crazy Life.

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

I’m most looking forward to seeing all the schools perform! I haven’t seen a lot of musicals, so I can’t wait to see everyone perform shows I’ve never seen before and then go watch the full thing! Just seeing all the talent and happy faces, I’m looking forward to everything!

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

My make-up! Ha! I would also pack a lot of song choices so I could have a variety of songs to choose from just to be extra prepared.


Hannah Sloas – Grace Christian Academy

Hannah Sloas

How did you get involved with theater?

I was in second grade and my school put on The Jungle Book where I played the tail of Kaa the snake, such an iconic role! It started my love of theater.

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

My favorite costume would be either the beautiful yellow Belle dress I wore this year or my Ursula outfit from The Little Mermaid, it had tentacles and everything!

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

Elle Woods in Legally Blonde or Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

I do! I always drink Throat Coat and then get into the mindset of my character and go through their motives.

What inspires you as an artist? 

Theater really speaks to people in a way that not really anything else can. A musical can touch a million people by just one performance. The story line of a show can drive me to do what I do.

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

Oh my goodness! I think, hopefully, Lea Michele would play me and the musical would be called Hello, Gorgeous. 

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

Performing and being on that amazing TPAC stage!

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

I have a stuffed animal of Kermit the Frog. I bring him everywhere I go, and he would be traveling to New York!


Will Ryan – Brentwood High School 

Will Ryan

How did you get involved with theater?

I actually got involved in theater through a friend. It was my junior year of high school in the fall semester, and my school was going to put on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I had never done theater before in my life and really wasn’t planning on it, but my friend told me she’d kill me if I didn’t audition! So I went and auditioned that day and landed a minor role and from there on I got bit by the bug! As I got more confident stuff kept coming my way.

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

I played King Triton in The Little Mermaid  and I had this shiny shirt and big pads on my arms with a giant trident. I got to come out onstage every night with this booming voice and make all the little kids scared.

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

I’ve got to say The Sound of Music, I played Captain Von Trapp. Growing up with the show, it’s so iconic and it’s always been a dream role of mine to play the captain and getting to go on stage and live that role was amazing.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

A lot of that for me is sitting down, drinking a lot of water, and taking a minute to just breathe. Stepping out on stage and remind myself then when I step in front of that curtain, I’m not myself anymore. That’s how I make everything work!

What inspires you as an artist? 

I have the opportunity to tell a story. Yes, a lot of people say that, but what I think is so cool about it is once you step on that stage no night is the same. No show is the same. You may have a bunch of different actors playing the same role but no one plays the same part exactly the same each time. It’s such an inspiring thing to see people do this every night.

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

I’m going to be very humble and go with Hugh Jackman! Ha! Some of my friends have a nickname for me and call me Smooth Voice Mcgee. Let’s go with that!

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

I can’t wait to come together with a group of such talented people! It’s such a great experience because everyone loves being out there and have the opportunity to take what they love and put it on the stage and even be commended for what they do. We don’t do it for the awards, but it’s always a fun thing!

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

You can never have enough socks!


Addison McFarlin- Lipscomb Academy 

How did you get involved with theater?

Addison McFarlin

When I was in second grade, we watched a video in music class and I remember there was a little girl who played Miss Muffett. I remember thinking that girl is so annoying, I don’t want to play that part. I was given that part. Ever since then, I’ve loved it!

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

Definitely in Cinderella, I had dresses that transformed. I would pull something and the whole thing would transform into a ball gown!

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

Sandy in Grease! I was really young when I played that role but I would definitely do it again.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

You know, usually I take quiet time to myself to be alone and focus, then I do stuff with my cast.

What inspires you as an artist? 

People that are really ambitious and go after what they want. I have several friends who, whether it’s sports or theater or whatever, go off to college and get to pursue these things and it’s really inspiring.

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

It would be called something to do with a hot mess or a whirlwind and I’d say Laura Osnes. I know that’s weird, but I really like her stuff and I sing a lot of her songs.

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

Being on TPAC’s stage! That stage is huge, it’s bigger than a lot of Broadway stages.

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

I have a necklace that my friend gave me that has a star on it and I feel like it brings me good luck.


Sevon Askew – Central Magnet School 

Sevon Askew

How did you get involved with theater?

I got involved with theater because my uncle was really involved, we always would go see him in a show. He eventually told me to come audition and so I did. I never stopped!

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

Oh goodness, probably Donkey in Shrek. It was a onesie that I got to sing and dance in which was really fun.

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

That’s a hard one! I’ve liked all my characters but I think Evan in Thirteen. I played that role in eighth grade and I knew that was probably the last time I could play that role and it was really fun.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

Praying of course, to get through the show. Just going over my lines and recently I’ve been trying to stretch, it helps a lot! Getting my mind in the right place.

What inspires you as an artist? 

Passion. Just in anything you’re doing, the passion and dedication inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing and always create.

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

I think we’re just going to call it Sevon. Who would play me…I mean, it’s a musical and there’s a lot of good actors, I’d like Denzel Washington to play me but I’m not sure how good his singing chops are… If not him, I’d say Joshua Henry.

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

I guess seeing what everyone in Middle and East Tennessee have put into their shows. They’re all passionate about what they’re doing and I can’t wait to see what everyone has prepared.

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

Another bag to take back more souvenirs!


Michael Dunaway – Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School

Michael Dunaway

How did you get involved with theater?

It started in eighth grade when I heard there were musicals at Hume-Fogg. I got really excited because they put on really cool productions. I auditioned and was really nervous and shaky and ended up being the last person there, but I somehow scraped into the ensemble. Ever since then I’ve been really excited and interested in theater.

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn onstage? 

Actually, the one I wore for Hello, Dolly! was really cool it was a houndstooth suit, matching pants and jacket with peach accents. It was really cool, I felt really put together!

What’s your favorite character you’ve ever played?

I think Tom Collins in Rent that was really cool. I like the depth and gravity of the role.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

Not really, I kind of get in my head a little bit and am not super talkative. I like to think about what I’m about to do, I don’t have anything crazy. Just getting into the zone.

What inspires you as an artist? 

My brother inspires me, his name is Ryan. He’s really impressive and into music. He writes songs and plays a bunch of different instruments. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re not fighting all the time and can actually be friends and he just really inspires me.

If someone were to make a musical about your life, who would play you and what would it be called?

It’s be called Michael’s Musical! Ha! Hugh Jackman would definitely play me because I’d love to meet him if I have any say in this!

What are you most looking forward to about the Spotlight Awards? 

I think it’ll be really cool to perform at TPAC in front of peers and see everyone dressed up and excited to be there! I saw a few of the high school’s musicals but I didn’t get to catch all of them, so I can’t wait to see everyone perform!

If you’re chosen to go to New York City, what’s one thing you would definitely pack in your suitcase? 

I don’t read as much as I should so maybe I should take a book. I love The Great Gatsby maybe I’ll bring it and try to analyze some text with friends!

 

You can catch all six finalists performing at the Spotlight Awards, May 12 in TPAC’s Jackson Hall. Tickets are available to the general public here.