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STANDOUT PERFORMERS: Strom Thurmond High School Theatre Students Receive Over $50,000 in Scholarships to NYCDA Programs

Johnston, SC – As senior admissions advisor for the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NYCDA), based in New York City, Sara Leone travels the country searching for talented young actors and performers looking to take the next step to an exciting career in the dramatic arts. Leone found plenty to be excited about when she visited Strom Thurmond High School recently to take in the school’s theatre production of the Disney classic musical Beauty and the Beast.

The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre and offers Occupational Studies (AOS) degree programs in Film and Television Performance, Musical Theater Performance and New Media.

Leone came away impressed with the level of dramatic talent present at Strom Thurmond High School.  

“‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a challenging musical, but I thought the students at Strom Thurmond High School rose to the challenge and brought a lot of heart and great energy to this show,” stated Leone. “Strom Thurmond also has a beautiful theatre space, and it was complimented with a set that looked straight out of a storybook and an exceptional light design.”

“Attending high school productions is one of my favorite ways to meet prospective students,” she added. “Ultimately, The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts is looking for students who are passionate about studying acting. In performance we are looking for students who make strong and smart character choices and who are having fun onstage.” 

The performance she attended led her to offer $51,000 in scholarships to STHS Theatre students. Receiving $1,000 scholarships to NYCDA’s intensive summer programs were Colton Johnson, Lillian Cockrell, Kiersten Skinner, Daniel Mims, Jessie Dampier and Cara Williams. Jari Smith, Ella Mathis Miller, who played the role of Belle, and Tobias Knight were each awarded with $10,000 “Rising Star” scholarships, while Dawson Kulp received a $15,000 “Rising Star” scholarship.. 

“Portraying classic characters comes with an expectation to meet, and I thought the students at Strom Thurmond High School did a wonderful job,” commented Leone. “Not only were they bringing to life characters we have all come to love, but they also infused those characters with bits of themselves, creating some hysterical and dynamic moments. I thought Jari Smith and Tobias Knight, who played Cogsworth and Lumiere, respectively, were shining examples of this. Dawson Kulp delivered a powerful and emotional performance as the Beast, especially shining in, ‘If I Can't Love Her.” 

Leone feels students at Strom Thurmond High School who are interested in the dramatic arts are set up for success under the guidance of STHS Theatre director and the school’s chorus, theatre and Teacher Cadet teacher, Steven McKinney.. 

“People always say their theatre program is a family, but I did not need to be told that about Strom Thurmond,” stated Leone. “I could see it and feel it. Steven McKinney, has created a welcoming and inclusive environment for young actors to grow and learn in.” 

Leone says high-quality fine arts programs should be available to all students. 

“Arts access is an essential part of any student's education,” commented Leone. “Theatre, specifically, teaches many soft skills that are sought after for jobs outside of theatre. Teaching students how to collaborate, problem solve, time manage, communicate effectively, and build up their confidence are skills that will translate to any career field. I believe arts and theatre education are just as important as STEM courses and should be offered equally.”

For more information, visit the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts’ website, located at

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