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Stepping up to a bigger stage

Actress is nominated for regional musical theater award

When senior Shiri Cohen saw that she was nominated for best actress for the Brandon Victor Dixon (BVD) Awards, she was sure it was a mistake.

“I was super thrilled, honestly. It was the first time that I was nominated for an acting award or competition that was not related [directly] to the school,” Cohen said. “I was very honored and surprised that scouts from The National Theatre thought that I was worth it to be considered.”

Cohen found out about her nomination in May, which was six months after the CESJDS high school production of “Hello, Dolly!” She played its lead, Dolly Levi, a widowed woman living in New York in the 1860s with a witty and hyper persona.

Although Cohen was the only actress in the show nominated for an award, Director of Arts Dr. David Solomon submitted an application for the production as a whole, with potential nominations for best actor and actress, best production and outstanding achievement in technical theater. He chose to submit the application for the first time this year because of the program’s rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Receiving the news of her nomination was exciting, but the next couple weeks of Cohen’s life were complicated by a series of auditions at The National Theatre in Washington, D.C. during the end of the school year. These auditions whittled down the number of candidates from eight to five.

“Other than being a junior in high school, having so much work and stressing over finals, I had to be at The National Theatre four times over a week and a half,” Cohen said. “But it was really worth it because it challenged my time management skills, and it was nice to know that I could handle it, despite the [process] being very stressful.”

During her last performance for the BVD awards in D.C., a group of teachers, including Solomon, supported her while she performed in front of judges and other audience members. Cohen felt like she had a “cheering squad” from JDS.

Karen Pang, math teacher and musical director of JDS’s a capella group, Shir Madness, was one of the teachers that supported Cohen during her performance.

“I was so excited that someone from JDS was nominated for such a prestigious award,” Pang said. “She just owned that stage… she was so good, and I was just blown away.”

The winner of the BVD awards went on to compete in the Jimmy Awards, the final and national competition for high school performers. Although she did not advance to the Jimmy Awards, both Solomon and Cohen look back fondly on the auditioning process, despite the seemingly disappointing result.

“I am so thrilled with the work that she did, and I know it was a learning experience, and I am so proud of her,” Solomon said. “One of my favorite memories of all time was watching her perform on The National Theatre stage and seeing all that hard work, enthusiasm and love for performance appear in front of a packed audience.”

Cohen plans on continuing to pursue her passion for singing and the performing arts even after high school. However, she isn’t entirely sure how singing and performing will manifest itself in her future.

“Acting and singing will always be part of my life,” Cohen said. “If I choose to pursue it and make it my profession, I would be honored to be able to make a living doing the thing I love most.”

This story was originally published on The Lion’s Tale on September 21, 2023.