Despite disabilities, Westminster teen takes top thespian awards

Andrew Spriggs, 14, rehearses a scene with Virginia Bonsal at Jemicy School in Owings Mills on Tuesday January 24, 2017.
Andrew Spriggs, 14, rehearses a scene with Virginia Bonsal at Jemicy School in Owings Mills on Tuesday January 24, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS — For 14-year-old Andrew Spriggs, theater has always been a part of his life.

His mom, who works at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, exposed him to the arts at an early age.


"Ever since I was little I would always act things out," as well as put on skits and sing for his family, Andrew said. "I've always been the outgoing, sort of out there kind of kid."

This month at the Maryland State Thespian Festival, Andrew Spriggs won Best Actor for his portrayal of Hal in "Proof"; was awarded Outstanding Production and Outstanding Physical Work; and qualified for the national awards with his performance in "The Crucible," Group Scene, which also earned him a Showcase spot in the closing ceremony.


Andrew said taking Best Actor was incredible, and left him speechless.

The national awards will be presented at the International Thespian Festival in June at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Things haven't always come easy for the ninth-grader from Westminster.

He struggled in his old school, with teachers who didn't understand why he wasn't doing well, Andrew said. Because he has a high IQ and was outgoing, they couldn't understand why school was a challenge, he added.


Every time there was an assignment, he suffered — it was "horrible," Andrew said.

"I always knew something was wrong," he added.

It wasn't until seventh grade that they learned he has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said, and they got him into Owings Mills' Jemicy School, which serves students "with dyslexia or other related language-based learning differences," according to its website. Andrew is in his second year there.

And since heading to the school, things have been different.

"Ever since I came here … something clicked," he added.

His most recent role — John Proctor in "The Crucible" — had hundreds of lines, Andrew said. And while it was tough, especially with a learning disability, teachers at Jemicy have made a point to help him, he added.

"They all support everything you do," he said.

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And Sean Elias, head of the theater department at Jemicy's upper school, has been one of his biggest supporters.

A holistic approach to learning is applied to theater and other courses at the school, Elias said.

Teaching students with learning disabilities can be different, he said, but they work to teach through experience, he added.

"We're taking what's intangible, and making it tangible," Elias said.

Getting involved in theater at Jemicy has been life-changing for Andrew.

It's an activity that forces him to tackle his disabilities head-on — blocking out positions on stage requires concentration, and reading and memorizing lines takes work because of his dyslexia — but to Andrew, it's worth fighting through difficulties for something he loves.

He knows he just has to push himself to do his very best.

"It's something that I want to do. I don't see it as work," he added.



Other award winners

Five Carroll County high schools — Century, Francis Scott Key, Liberty, Manchester Valley and South Carroll — participated in the Maryland State Thespian Festival at Towson University in January. Four of the schools entered a One-Act in the competition, and many students competed in individual events and scholarships.

•Sydney Dickenson, of Century High, earned a Superior rating in her individual event for musical theater and was invited to the National Thespian Festival this summer. Century Drama performed "The Miracle Worker," which earned second place out of 22 schools that performed one-act plays at the festival. Hannah Johnson and Gillian Boline were chosen as Best Actor for their performance in "The Miracle Worker."

•Francis Scott Key High received Best Ensemble and Best Sound for its performance of the one-act "Zap." Darian Blackiston and Justin Patterson were chosen as Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively.

•Claire Vervack, of Liberty High, received a Superior rating for her Stage Management individual event. Lexi Twilley also received a Superior rating for her individual event in Costume Design. They both qualified for the National Thespian Festival.

•Manchester Valley High received awards for Best Costuming and Best Hair/ Make-Up in its theater group for its one-act, "The Imaginary Invalid." Grace Garrett and Chris Short were recognized as Best Actress and Actor. In individual events, Brittney Flinn, Cecelia Boynton and Lilith Ralph received Superior ratings in their Duet Musical Theatre and Acting individual events, qualifying them for the National Thespian Festival in Nebraska.

•South Carroll High received awards for Best Props and Best Vocals in its theater group for its performance of "The Diary of Adam and Eve." Kelly Elsaesser and Stephen Maples received Best Actress and Best Actor in their one-act.