ICYMI – Check out the 2021 Kenny Awards Ceremony:
Watch the 2021 Kenny Awards Nominations Here:
Congratulations to our 2021 Kenny Awards and Jimmy Awards Student Reporter Lily Peck! Look for Lily’s content on our social media accounts with the hashtag #KennyAwards.
The 2021 Virtual Kenny Awards Ceremony will premiere on YouTube on Saturday, May 8 at 6:00 pm. Subscribe to our YouTube Page for updates!
The Kenny Awards adjudicators consist of qualified arts professionals and educators. All adjudicators must attend regular meetings that consist of training, orientation, idea sharing, and program updates. In this unique program year, all adjudicators will watch the participants video submissions and evaluate the performances using specific award/performance criteria rubrics. We are proud to announce the 2021 Kenny Adjudicators!
Jill is so excited to be joining the Kenny team for the 2021 season! Jill has been performing for 13 years, having performed in over 30 local productions. Throughout that time she has been dedicated to taking dance classes and also studying voice privately. Jill is a proud recent graduate of the University at Buffalo with a BFA in Music Theatre and a minor in education. Beyond performing in musicals and Shakespeare dramas at UB, Jill had the great honor to direct The Cat in The Hat, which was the first children theatre production for young audiences performed through the university’s Theatre and Dance Department. Her passion for theatre education began when she started getting involved in productions with middle and high school students around the Buffalo area. For the past 6 years she has directed and or choreographed over 15 productions for performers of all ages. Her work on Bring it On! was nominated for “Best Choreography of a Musical” through Broadway World’s Regional Awards in 2019. Jill is beyond excited that her education journey will continue next May when she starts her Masters program in education through Niagara University. She cannot wait to be involved with the Kenny Awards next year, and is so excited to see the work and talent of all the local high school students.
As a native of Clarence, Heather holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre from Buffalo State College. Heather is no stranger to the stage or performing, as she dazzled guests while performing in parades and shows at Walt Disney World for almost 10 years. While in Florida, Heather was also a Director with Wekiva River Players, a local Youth Theatre group in Longwood, Florida. Some of her Directing credits include Disney’s The Aristocats Kids, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Kids, Pinocchio, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids, Disney’s Jungle Book Kids, Disney’s Aladdin Jr, Disney’s Mulan Jr, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr and most recently Dear Edwina Jr. Heather is so excited to be a part of the adjudication team for the Kenny Awards Program and is looking forward to hearing some dazzling performances!
Adam Bett has been interested in theater since the age of ten after seeing his first musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in Toronto starring Donnie Osmond. Watching The Muppets Take Manhattan on repeat during his childhood may have also instilled in him a love of Broadway (and the Muppets). Mr. Bett earned his Bachelors and Masters in Music Education from the State University of New York at Fredonia. He is currently in his 15th year teaching general music and chorus at Gowanda Middle School, also serving as the producer of the Gowanda High School musical. His most rewarding position is the role of artistic and music director of the Gowanda Middle School musical for fifteen years. Seeing how theater can make a student come out of their shell and develop into a confident young adult over the course of four years is truly awe-inspiring! Having found success in his small, rural district, he has had the honor of presenting at the NYSSMA Winter conference on building a successful musical theater program in a low-income school district. Mr. Bett has been a judge with the Kenny program since 2016 and can’t wait to be dazzled by the phenomenal talent of our Western New York students.
A Buffalo, NY native, Eileen was a dance major at BAVPA studying with Yvonne James-Brown, Hannah Raiken-Schulman and Peggy Schwartz laying a solid dance foundation prior to heading to NYC to study dance and musical theatre with Luigi, Steps on Broadway with teachers including Ann Reinking and Broadway Dance Center with Frank Hatchett. While taking entertainment business courses at New York University, Eileen started interning at A&M Records and landed a job as a Publicist working with artists such as Sting, Janet Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Barry White, Soundgarden, Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveler. She then moved to King Biscuit Records as the PR Director for King Biscuit Flower Hour, the long running radio show working with classic rock musicians including Billy Squire, America, Supertramp and David Crosby.
After the dismantling of the record industry, Eileen freelanced for clients including a record label and recording studio owned by financier John W. Henry, press liaison for a British based educational trust and publicist for a women’s organization. Broadening her quest for experience in various industries, she did a stint at a prestigious private equity firm, managed numerous restaurants and organized global travel events at an international non profit.
In 2009 Eileen started Buffalo based Nickel City Opera with Metropolitan Opera singer Valerian Ruminski now in its 12th Season. As the Executive Director wearing many hats, she wrote and secured the 501 (c)3 non profit status, is a successful grant writer, provides full service public relations and marketing campaigns to NCO in addition to various entertainment clients. From producing and negotiating theatrical contracts to creating innovative fundraising events and effective sponsorship campaigns, “it can’t be done” is not a part of her vocabulary.
Sharing her time and expertise, Eileen has also volunteered with numerous non profit organizations including The New York Musical Theatre Festival, The NYC Fringe Festival and NYC Dance Week in addition to teaching a popular class, ‘The Media Truth’ at the International Center in NYC
Paige Cummings, a native of Jamestown, NY, is absolutely thrilled to be an adjudicator at this year’s Kenny Awards. She is currently a senior BFA Acting Major at Baldwin Wallace University. Paige has been involved with the Kenny’s since middle school, competing with Maple Grove High School. She was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actress as Marty in Grease and Erma in Anything Goes. Since high school, Paige has worked professionally in Cleveland. She worked with the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival on their production of Henry V(Katherine/Boy/Bates) and the Western Reserve Playhouse on Heathers(Ms. Fleming/Veronica’s Mom). This spring, along with judging the Kenny’s she will be in She Kills Monsters(Kaliope), the mainstage production at Baldwin Wallace. Paige loves Buffalo theatre, and can’t wait to watch these upcoming stars shine!
Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Donna Kerr has performed and directed throughout the Western New York area. For over 25 years, she has taught in the Buffalo Public Schools as an English, Theatre and Music educator. Ms Kerr is the Band Director at City Honors School for grades 5-12. Ms. Kerr is a member of the Erie County Music Educators Association, New York State School Music Association and the National Association for Music Education. She serves on the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Education and Curriculum Committee and Community Spotlight Program which features and hosts performances and educational opportunities for young musicians. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a liaison to the community for educational programs, scholarship and performs as a Musician Medic with her vocal group, The Buffalo Dolls.
Ms. Kerr was part of the winning directing team for the Kenny Award in 1995 for Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts production, The King and I and City Honors School 2008 production, Children of Eden. In 2008, Ms. Kerr was recognized by the Coca-Cola Company as an Educator of Distinction. She received the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Erie County Music Educators Association’s Award for Excellence in Music Education in 2015 and is Grammy nominated for Music Educator of the Year for 2017.
Diane C. DiBernardo
Diane Di Bernardo is an accomplished theatre artist and educator. A Niagara University theatre graduate, she now brings her passion and dedication for the Arts to Shea’s as a Kenny’s adjudicator. Diane’s professional career began at Studio Arena Theatre where at 22 she received her Actor’s Equity Card. After moving to New York City, she continued to study acting and perform in theatre, TV, and film. Locally, she has enjoyed working at numerous professional Buffalo theatres and has been nominated three times for an Artie Award for her acting work. Diane is also an accomplished makeup artist whose work has been featured nationally as well as locally and in countless ad campaigns, films, and TV talk shows.
Tom Gleed studied theatre under Roz Kramer at Daemen College (formally Rosary Hill College). He performed in early Theatre of Youth (TOY) productions and is the former president of the Buffalo Opera Guild. He continues to take roles in local productions, performs with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and is a member of the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus.
Jaimee is a professional actor and Buffalo native. She has had the pleasure of performing at several WNY theaters, including Irish Classical Theatre Co., Alleyway Theatre, the Subversive Theatre Collective, and the Lancaster Opera House. Jaimee holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from the University at Buffalo and has trained in Shakespearean performance with Make Trouble Ensemble of NC. A previous Kenny nominee herself, she is thrilled to be a part of the Kenny Awards process this year. To see more about her work, check out www.jaimeeharmon.com.
Director of IT/Enrollment & Residency and CIO for Eden Central School District Lucinda started her work in theatre as an actress and dancer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts for Children from Brockport. Is permanently certified K-12 Art teacher in New York State. She has minor studies emphasis in children’s dance, theatre and music. She has worked in children’s theatre for over 30 years as choreographer and director for schools and church programs in three states. For the past 22 years as a member of the Eden Central School District faculty Lucinda has been part of the high school musical team. During that tenure she has been choreographer, costume designer and stage manager for the majority of the shows. The Eden Junior Senior High School musicals have a long history with the Kenny awards participating as a finalist four times. In 2004 receiving the Kenny Award for Outstanding Production. Lucinda has made it a priority to add children’s theatre and drama studies in her life.
Mr. Donald Keddie retired in 2008 from teaching music in the Fredonia Central Schools. At various times during his thirty-three-year career, he directed elementary, middle, and high school bands, conducted the high school orchestra, and taught AP Music Theory. His involvement in musical theater began in the pit orchestra as a trumpeter, a violinist, and eventually conductor for nineteen shows. After developing a strong interest in technical theater, he gained experience in set and lighting design and ultimately served as the director for his last five shows at Fredonia. His final production there, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was the first Kenny Award finalist from Chautauqua County. Following retirement, Mr. Keddie has remained active in educational theater, having directed eight musicals at Forestville Central School.
Besides his work in the theater, Mr. Keddie has performed and conducted on eight European trips with the American Music Abroad Empire Band and Choir, a cultural performance tour for advanced high school and college musicians. He is currently an adjunct instructor at the SUNY Fredonia School of Music, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education. Previously a brass player, he now plays bassoon in several collegiate, community, and regional ensembles. He also assists with the New Horizons Band of Western New York, an adult concert band based at the School of Music.
Melanie Klaja is so excited to be a part of The Kenny Awards, 2021, as an adjudicator! This is a very special year, and she cannot wait to experience all of the amazing talent, WNY students have to offer. Melanie aka “Mel” graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BA in Theatre Arts in 2004. She then moved to NYC to pursue a career as a performer, for 7 years. After releasing a highly acclaimed, VMA nominated album with her, then band, The Shells, touring the country and mastering how to manage and promote herself, she moved back to her hometown of Buffalo to start a family and her own studio, MEL’s School of Music & Theatre, in Hamburg. For the past three years, she has give students a safe place to Grow, Explore & Perform. When she’s not directing, or teaching, voice, acting, guitar or piano, she’s busy taking care of her two daughters, Rylie and Delanie, with her partner, Ryan. She can also be found on the stages, in person and virtual, with O’Connell & Company and The Gypsy Theatre. Thank you Carlisle, Jennifer, and all the folks at Shea’s, for this wonderful opportunity. Best of luck to all the nominees!
Cory McCants is a Buffalo native that began his creative arts career in the 5th grade while attending Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, and later graduating from Niagara University with a BFA in theater studies.
Cory has spent recent years finding success in New York City as an actor and Dance/Theater teacher. Having the opportunity to work with Directors such as Ava DuVernay, and companies like MTV and Geico has given Cory unique insight on the importance of following your dreams; and hopes to instill these concepts in today’s youth
Now back in Buffalo, Cory spends his time focusing on Hip-hop dance as a middle school Performing Arts teacher, as well as, filming comedy sketches and trying to bring people together through the power of laughter. He believes it is our duty as adults to offer the guidance children so desperately need.
Melissa Kate Miller
Melissa Kate Miller is a multi-faceted artist in the performing and literary arts. As international jazz vocalist and songwriter, she has worked with Taylor Made Jazz (Buffalo Music Hall of Fame) and the George Scott Big Band, in addition to her own jazz & blues band. International tours include Mediterranean and European territories. As a stage and voice actress, Melissa is a graduate of Fredonia’s musical theater program. Her work includes co-founding a Manhattan-based non-profit that produced original works and several East Coast premier plays, film work with Green Tater Productions, and stage performances in multiple NYC and local venues. Voiceover work includes United Health Services in Binghamton, Mighty Taco, Applebees, and many more. As a creative writer and Teaching Artist, Melissa has authored several novels currently being shopped, and has educated thousands of young people in the creative work of developing characters for writing and theatre, especially in the American art form of improvisation. She is a member of the minor league of ComedySportz Buffalo, and is passionate about theatre, and all arts, as a source of expression for the self, and also as a collective storytelling vital to humanity’s wellbeing and growth.
Maryalice Nowak is a life-long musical theatre aficionado and spent many years studying voice, dance, and instrumental music. She worked on high school theatrical productions in all capacities from technical to orchestral to on-stage performance. She has also performed in a number of local musical and theatrical productions. In her youth, Maryalice was selected to perform with the song and dance group Spirit of Youth, with which she performed at many venues throughout the region, including the Erie County Fair. She later spent several years on the staff of Spirit of Youth. She continues her study of dance to this day, and has spent her summers singing with a local women’s a cappella chorus.
With a BFA in Theatre and Dance and a Masters Degree in Education, and Educational Leadership Renee Obringer is a New York certified K- 12 theatrical arts educator and a member of the New York State Theatre Educator’s Association. She has studied at both Niagara University and Buffalo State College and is currently the Fine Arts Coordinator for the Buffalo Public School District where she coordinates their district wide middle school musical theatre program. Renee choreographed her first musical at the age of thirteen and has directed and/or choreographed for various high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and community theatres throughout Western New York. Additionally, Renee has performed in regional, summerstock, professional and community theatre productions. She has had the joy of being a theme park performer and costume character. Her current focus has shifted toward theatre education, developing theatre curriculum and supporting students and teachers in theatrical best practices.
María Pérez-Gómez graduated with a BA in Communications and a Minor in Vocal Technique from Sacred Heart University of Puerto Rico and Buffalo State College. María performed at El Centro de Bellas Artes de Puerto Rico with renowned Puerto Rican singer Danny Rivera. She also sang in a choir for Kenny Rogers and Carman. María was a member of the Buffalo State College Choir for 4 years. She worked as a volunteer for Raíces Theatre Company in the Box Office and participated in Raíces’ stage reading of Divorciadas, Evangélicas y Vegetarianas, Gorditas and Medea. She has worked as the Prop Master and Costume designer for Raíces’ production of Happiest Song Plays Last, Mariela in the Dessert and Barceló on the Rocks as well as acted in a short film with Theatre for Change for UB titled “Meet Fred Santiago.” María has also written for, directed and performed in Raíces’ Desde el Puente series. She is an Artie Committee member. Her most recent artistic endeavor includes writing the children’s musical, El Closet Mágico, which debuted in 2020 as a virtual stage reading,Directed by Victoria Pérez. These days she can be seen in a William Mattar and Independent Health commercial.
Mrs. Danielle Rodgers is an alumnus of the SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music (’03) with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education, Ithaca College (’07) with a Master of Music in Music Education, and Canisius College (’18) with a Master of Science in Educational Leadership. She began her teaching career in 2003 as the middle school vocal director for Adirondack Central Schools. Mrs. Rodgers was also the junior/senior high school choral director at Oakfield-Alabama High School, where her choirs enjoyed such opportunities as performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. In her time as a middle high educator, she directed, choreographed, and produced for many high school shows. While at Oakfield, she was honored to receive the H.O.R.N.E.T. Effective Teaching Award, as well as Teacher of the Year. Currently, Mrs. Rodgers is a vocal and general music teacher at Casey Middle School in the Williamsville School District. Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Rodgers is a frequent presenter for both ECMEA and NYSSMA conferences. She is a NYSSMA All State vocal adjudicator, and has frequently adjudicated for ECMEA as well. She was also honored to conduct the Erie County SSA All County Chorus and the Cortland County Senior High All County Chorus. As a soprano, Mrs. Rodgers has performed as a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus Pro-Core, and has served as their conducting
Bret Runyon has been a costumer at D.C. Theatricks for the past 19 years. He has worked as a costumer with many theatres including Gateway Playhouse, Surflight Theatre, Studio Arena Theatre, and the Kavinoky. Through his work at D.C., his costumes have been seen on national and international stages for such notable actors as Betty Buckley, Sherman Hemsley, Lorenzo Lamas, and more. Bret is also a musician, playing saxophone and piano for The George Scott Big Band at the Colored Musicians Club. He has been the music director for productions at the Lancaster Opera House, O’Connell & Co., BUA, and Canisius College Little Theatre.
Elizabeth Sanderson is a lifelong theater lover and musician. She is a fixture of the WNY music and drama scene, having over a decade of experience as a professional performer and as a vocal and acting instructor. She has led several master classes, studio classes, and workshops designed to help aspiring actors and vocalists hone their craft. Many students under her tutelage have successfully gone on to pursue careers in the performing arts at both collegiate and professional levels. She has helped several high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools build their drama programs over the years through her work as director, vocal director, music director, sound and light technician, and more. Elizabeth has also worked with multiple theater companies in the Buffalo area as an actor and pit musician. Elizabeth performs across Western and Central NY as a member of the Celtic Duo, Elemental Sprites and as a solo artist. She is currently the general music and chorus teacher at Global Concepts Charter School and the Director of Music at Riverside Presbyterian Church.
Owner/instructor/Competitor @ Ballroom & Beyond
Tara has worked as an actress and dancer for over 35 years. She is a dance educator and body movement specialist, winning many national and international awards for both dance and choreography. Owner of “Ballroom & Beyond Dance Center”. Her studio offers more than 20 styles of dance, movement, Yoga, and fitness classes. A dance educator at her studio as well as in schools for k-12 grades. Tara has choreographed numerous high school and middle school & professional musicals. A Kenny judge and teaching artist for Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
Jenna Tasker is a 2013 magna cum laude graduate of Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Vocal Performance and a B.M. in Music Education. She received her Master’s Degree in Music Education from the University at Buffalo where she currently teaches music in the Early Childhood Research Center. Mrs. Tasker is the owner of Tasker Studios in East Aurora, NY which offers private voice and piano lessons, group lessons, and early childhood music classes. She also directs Tasker Studios’ SPOTLIGHT: Music and Theatre Camp every summer. She has been involved in many different aspects of musicals and operas including performing lead roles and serving as director, assistant director, lighting director, and vocal coach for high school, college, and community theater. Mrs. Tasker is on the judging panel for the Kenny Awards and has presented numerous workshops at Shea’s.
Jennifer Tylock has been working in theater since she was a small child and has been involved in local high school musical theater for the past twenty years. Currently she is the director of the Orchard Park Middle School musical and just ended her fourteen year tenure as the director and producer of the Eden Junior Senior High musical, during which Eden won the Kenny Award for Outstanding Production. Her other theater experience has had her involved in multiple aspects of musical theater production from staging, accompanying, and choreographing, to set and light design with several school districts in the area.
Jennifer holds bachelor degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education, a Master of Music Education from SUNY Fredonia, and studied voice with Helen Hodam. Her performance experience includes lead roles with the Syracuse Talent Company, New England Conservatory, Ithaca College, and the Hillman Opera. She has been the middle and high school choral director at Eden Junior Senior High School since 2000 where she also has taught coursework in theater practice and improvisation.
Jennifer is very excited to be working with the other Kenny judges in such a valuable community program!
Ms. Valerie Villa has been a music and theatre educator for over twenty years. Her love for teaching and performing began as a student playing instruments, singing, and acting in plays and musicals. After graduating from SUNY Fredonia in 2002 with a Bachelors in Music Education, she utilized her talents to give children the same opportunities afforded to her growing up and beyond. She jumped at the chance to be the President and Producer of The Amherst Players, Inc. for five years, working with both children and adults to produce shows. In 2013, she began her own performing arts organization, Encore Experience, LLC; producing plays and musicals, teaching private lessons, and showcasing students in acting opportunities such as “Joe Pera’s Christmas Special”. Ms. Villa is thrilled to be an adjudicator for Shea’s Kenny Awards this year and looks forward to seeing each child shine as they progress down their path to stardom
Michael began directing and choreographing professionally in 2001, starting at Musicalfare Theatre. He has over 40 directing and choreography credits to his name, at theaters including Studio Arena Theatre, The Kavinoky Theatre, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Theater of Youth, Buffalo United Artists, O’Connell and Company, Second Generation Theatre Company and 710 Main Theatre. Michael has also conceived, written, directed and choreographed 4 full length, award-winning musicals that have all been professionally produced to sold-out audiences. He is a 10-time recipient of the WBFO Artie Award in the areas of Direction and Choreography, a 2016 Buffalo Spree “Best of Buffalo” award winner for Outstanding Character Performance of the Year, and most recently was inducted into the Williamsville Central Schools Wall of Fame as an alumnus of Williamsville South High School. Michael is also a proud member of and Marketing Committee Chair for the Association of Regional Theater Artists (ARTA).
Michael’ s most rewarding theatrical experience was his 15-year career at Theater of Youth Company. TOY was founded in 1972 by Daemen College theatre instructors Rosalind Cramer and Toni Smith Wilson. What started as a small company of local actors working out of the theatre at Daemen College has grown into a cornerstone of the Buffalo Arts & Cultural community. Each season (pre pandemic), more than 30,000 children attend TOY performances. Michael’s philosophy of the importance of the audience seeing themselves in a character onstage was solidified in his years at TOY. Under the guidance of Meg Quinn, Michael directed and/or choreographed 20 plays and musicals, including travelling shows on the importance of nutrition and teaching the warning signs of strokes to elementary school students.
Michael believes that theater is a necessary component to a school’s curriculum. Theater provides skills that go beyond the stage – skills that work in a classroom as much as they work in a boardroom:
Creative Problem Solving
Respect for Deadlines
Respect for Authority
Michael is a Sr. Marketing Professional for IT Technology by day, creating brand campaigns and marketing resources for some of the largest consumer tech companies in the world. He believes that the skills we obtain through the art of storytelling are instruments we need to use, and foster, in our daily lives.
Doug Zschiegner is Asst. Director/Asst. Professor at Niagara University Theatre’s BFA program, where he’s directed Company, The Threepenny Opera, She Stoops to Conquer, The Real Thing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Into the Woods, Bat Boy: The Musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, She Loves Me and The Laramie Project. Besides teaching there, he’s adapted classic texts including CyranA, The Macbeth Insurgency and Pygmalion Today. As Associate Director at The Kavinoky Theatre he directed It’s A Wonderful Life, Secret Order and Rock ‘n’ Roll. He’s also a member of Road Less Traveled Production’s Resident Ensemble, directing premieres of Insidious, Very Fine Use of a Grenade and two Buffalo Stories events. Doug directed over thirty shows and ran Education/Outreach for eight years as Resident Director of Mill Mountain Theatre, an Equity company in Roanoke, VA. Acting credits include Race at RLTP, Atticus Finch at Studio Arena, Brutus with Shakespeare in Delaware Park, narration for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the film Marshall, plus over three-dozen roles by Shakespeare around the country. Doug’s guest directed and/or taught at Virginia Tech, Franklin & Marshall and Dickinson universities and Walnut Street, McCarter, First Stage, Roanoke Children’s Theatre, Indiana Rep and GEVA theatre companies. His MFA is from U of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program. That last name is pronounced CHEEG-ner