The drama program at Emerson Junior High is basking in the recognition extended to former Emerson student Sean Pendergrass, who was honored recently with a regional Elly Award for his performance in last May’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Emerson.
The show also was nominated in seven other categories in the Ellys’ education division, including costumes, lighting and musical direction. Cast member Shannon Mo also was nominated for best actress.
“It was our spring musical,” said teacher Gina Smith, who has been a member of the Emerson faculty for eight years. “Our students did a fabulous job.”
Pendergrass won best actor in the education division for his performance as Man in Chair, the otherwise nameless character who functions as the show’s narrator. “He was up against high school students (several years his senior) from schools in Sacramento and the surrounding counties,” Smith said.
Pendergrass, now a 10th-grader at Da Vinci Charter Academy, said, “Being in ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ was a great experience. It was my 14th show overall. It helped me grow as an actor. It was a great last show for me at Emerson. And the audience response was amazing.”
Pendergrass attended the Elly Awards ceremony and accepted his award there.
“It was very surprising,” he said. “After I got the award, I was in a grand state of disbelief for about two days.”
Pendergrass has been auditioning for winter shows, though not at Emerson. But the Emerson drama program goes on, with Smit drawing from her contacts in the theater world; she worked for several years at California Musical Theatre, the parent organization of the summer Music Circus series, and Broadway Sacramento.
Among her supporters is professional musician Graham Sobelman, who’s participated in seven Emerson shows. Local audiences may remember Sobelman as the music director of the UC Davis production of “Tommy” a few years ago; he’s also played piano for shows at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret and at the Sacramento Theatre Company.
Smith also credited Rachel Malin, a professional puppeteer, and parent Susan Miller for helping in many ways with Emerson shows. She also mentioned her husband, Andrew Enberg, who builds the sets.
Asked what keeps the quality of Emerson shows so high, Smith responded, “I think it’s the high expectations that we all have for them. Our people treat it as a professional show, not ‘just a junior high production.’ And I think our students respect that, and come up to that level.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.