Behind-The-Scenes with The Blumeys

Jan 9, 2024 / Blog
By Liz Rothaus Bertrand

Every year, audience members snap up tickets for The Blumey Awards ceremony with the expectation that the student performers will be outstanding. It’s a sellout crowd, and for good reason.


The Blumey Awards’ many success stories center stage are well documented. What’s less well known are the incredible achievements of Blumey Awards alums who work behind the scenes and are now pursuing professional theatrical careers across the country.


The Blumey Awards serve as a springboard for young artists who have a passion for technical and theatrical production roles. Blumenthal offers a wide variety of opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience throughout the year, in areas as diverse as arts journalism, costume and set design, music direction, and stage management. Students can participate in free workshops with industry professionals as well as take on unique roles assisting with the big night.


“I think it's been a wonderful mission of Blumenthal and the education department to make sure that it's not just the actors that are getting the opportunity to be part of The Blumey Awards,” said music director David Dabbon, who helms the program each year.



(David Dabbon)


The Broadway composer/arranger has apprentices assisting him each year as well as student musicians in the pit, who play with the 17-piece professional orchestra.


New York-based composer and musician James Stryska’s experiences at The Blumey Awards not only helped him refine his skills, the program gave him an appreciation for the importance of human relationships in his craft. Stryska said he was honored, in his sophomore year, to accept a Blumey Award for Best Orchestra on behalf of Central Academy of Technology & Arts’ production of Sweeney Todd, which he music directed and conducted. For the next two years, Stryska served as one of Dabbon’s assistants, helping him prepare for The Blumey Awards.


James Stryska.jpeg

(James Stryska)


“It was seriously one of the best opportunities I got to do,” Stryska shared via email. “I loved every moment of it. David is one of the hardest working people I know, which is so inspiring.”


He admires how Dabbon took the time to teach and get to know him, modeling the importance of respecting the humanity of each person involved in a project, no matter how frantic and busy a work environment can get.


“That is something I've taken and try to practice every single day on both a career and personal level,” said Stryska, who has composed music and lyrics for several new musicals and serves as music director for various artists including Alyssa Wray from “American Idol,” Carolina Rial from “The Voice,” and Henry Platt.


Krí Schafer, a 2016 Lake Norman High School graduate, also had the chance to work with Dabbon at The Blumey Awards. Schafer said the skills they learned have played an important role in launching their career in Hollywood as a screenwriter, actor and film score composer.


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(Krí Schafer)


They first met Dabbon in 2015 as a first-round nominee for Best Actress for the title role in The Drowsy Chaperone. Then Schafer returned to The Blumeys the following year as Dabbon’s music directing assistant.


As part of that experience, Schafer composed and orchestrated transition music for the live band to play during the awards ceremony. “It was awesome. Working with David was one of the best experiences of my life, musically and beyond.”


Schafer said working alongside Dabbon also gave an insider perspective on how to listen and create.


“I use the skills he taught me every time I’m on set or creating a piece of music,” Schafer said. “He is a role model on how to be gentle and kind as a leader, teacher and ally. It gave me momentum to continue pursuing a career in a creative space, and now that I’m working in Hollywood, I’m exactly where I need to be.”


Schafer also expressed gratitude to Blumenthal for honoring students in a professional way through The Blumey Awards, by giving students the opportunity to showcase the hard work they put into performances in an elevated setting.


“There’s truly nothing like it – it’s the most treasured thing that happens in the Charlotte-area high school theater community.”


Charlotte Latin School alumnus Ryan Gardner grew up attending shows at Blumenthal Performing Arts. Now, he has a career in stage management that has taken him from Broadway to national tours, including multiple productions of Waitress and the current U.S. tour of Les Miserables. In July, he was promoted to production stage manager for the latter.


Ryan Gardner Les Mis.jpeg

(Ryan Gardner)


“I was very humbled to be trusted in this role as one of the youngest PSMs to ever lead a Les Mis company in its 38-year history worldwide,” Gardner said.


For him, The Blumey Awards were his first taste of how a professional theater works behind the scenes.


“One of the highlights for me at The Blumeys was just being backstage at the Belk (Theater),” he said. “Coming from a more technical side of theater, I just loved to see the inner workings … from the fly rail to the grid, to all the lighting equipment and the logistics of how we’re going to put on this awards show. Helping make the show happen was a great opportunity and one I’ll always remember.”


Ryan Gardner Waitress.jpeg

(Ryan Gardner)


Ashani Smith, another Blumey Awards alumna and graduate of Northwest School of the Arts, is also busy working as an assistant stage manager on national tours. She has visited Charlotte several times over the last two years with the first national tours of Pretty Woman, Jagged Little Pill and most recently with Company.


Ashani Smith Company.JPG

(Ashani Smith)


For Brittany Halberstadt, Blumenthal’s Programming General Manager, gaining experience in technical theater and participating in The Blumey Awards were also key steps to her career success. The Providence Day School alum was nominated for Best Costume Creation in 2014 and 2015 at The Blumey Awards.


“I knew that I never wanted to be onstage,” she said. “I was more of a shy, introverted high schooler but I loved the idea of being able to help make the theater come to life, and doing that as a backstage technical person seemed to be the best way to do that to express my creativity.”


Brittany Halberstadt.jpeg

(Brittany Halberstadt)


She studied art history at Duke University, worked as a production assistant on the national tour of Disney’s The Lion King, and spent several years working in booking and programming roles in New York before returning to Charlotte. “The Blumey Awards was the most instrumental program that I ever participated in in high school,” she said. “It helped me grow as a leader, as a community member of the Charlotte theater scene, gave me confidence.”


Other Blumey Awards alums came in as performers and later decided that a behind-the-scenes career was a better fit. That’s true for 2019 Best Actress Blumey Award winner Arella Flur, who recently graduated from Northwestern University with a concentration in theater management.


The Charlotte Latin School alumna now serves as assistant company manager for the 25th anniversary tour of Mamma Mia! (You can catch the production in Charlotte in June.) Working alongside the show’s company manager, she serves as a liaison between the producers/general managers, the touring company, and local staff at each touring venue. She helps take care of the company and oversees many important logistics while on the road, from arranging travel to managing payroll.


Arella Flur on tour with Mamma Mia.jpeg

(Arella Flur)


“Winning The Blumey Award and going to the Jimmys was a great honor,” Flur wrote via email while touring on the West Coast. “I had attended every ceremony since The Blumeys started, and every year I looked up to the people on the Belk stage. … As wonderful as my performing experiences with The Blumeys were, I knew going into college that my skills would be better suited for a behind-the-scenes role in the theater.”


She said Blumenthal's staff and its president and CEO, Tom Gabbard, have been among her biggest cheerleaders.


“When I expressed interest in learning more about theater management, Tom was one of the first people who volunteered to sit down with me, walk through the possibilities, and make introductions to theater managers across the country. The summer before I went to college, Blumenthal created a unique apprenticeship for me to work with and shadow every department in the organization, giving me a strong knowledge base that I have carried into every role since. When I produced my first show while still in college, Tom and Blumenthal were eager to support.


“I'm immensely grateful for Tom and Blumenthal's commitment to helping students thrive in all types of careers.”


Arella Flur 2019 Blumey Awards Best Actress Winner.jpg(2019 Blumey Awards Best Actress Winner Arella Flur)


2017 Blumey Awards alumnus Westin Hicks is also busy working as an assistant company manager in New York. The Nation Ford High School grad’s recent Broadway credits include the revival of Parade and the new comedy Gutenberg! The Musical!




A post shared by Westin Hicks (@westinhicks)


Those musicals have more than one unique connection to the Queen City. They both are being produced by Providence Day School alumnus and two-time Blumey Awards Best Actor nominee Thomas Laub. He started his theatrical company Runyonland Productions while he was still a student at the University of Michigan.


Runyonland, which already has two Tony Award wins under its belt, has produced many high-profile projects on Broadway and beyond. One of the company’s latest co-productions is The Wiz, which played to sold-out crowds in Charlotte this past November and will arrive on Broadway in March. (Fun fact: it also stars Northwest School of the Arts alumnus Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tin Man. He won a Blumey Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2014.)


Thomas Laub at the 2022 Tony Awards.jpeg

(Thomas Laub)


Laub, who is based in New York, is also helping to produce and co-host the 10th Anniversary Celebration. He said his experiences as a young artist in Charlotte and as a Blumey Awards participant were fundamental in shaping his career.


“The program has stuck with me so much,” he said. “... It's been such a joy, frankly, to work on this … such a good excuse to talk to all of my friends from Charlotte here in the city and round them all up for one really marvelous performance.”


And you can be sure there will be many other marvelous performances yet to come, with generations of Blumey alums guiding the way, behind the scenes.


Blumenthal Arts is a not-for-profit organization and successful programs like The Blumey Awards are not possible without support from donors like you! Consider making a gift today - because every dream deserves the opportunity of pursuit! Visit:

More Info for 10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration
A one-night-only event and fundraiser benefiting the Blumey Inspire Fund

10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration

A one-night-only event and fundraiser benefiting the Blumey Inspire Fund
Jan 13, 2024