'Rising Stars' lift arts gala even higher

Besides honoring veterans of the local arts scene, the Howard County Arts Council's Celebration of the Arts at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre on Saturday, March 23, also honors young performers who are just starting out. Its Rising Stars Emerging Performing Artist Award Competition is for performing artists between the ages of 18 and 35. This year, there are 10 contestants competing for a cash prize of $5,000.

The pressure of being given a three-minute performance slot to deliver the goods is enough to make audience members nervous, so how do the young performers themselves feel about it?


"A performance is a performance regardless of whether it is a competition or in an actual (operatic) setting. The nerves are just the same," said classical vocalist Rebecca Hargrove, 22, who will be singing an aria from the opera "La Boheme."

This Columbia resident studied voice and piano while growing up in the county. Performing with Toby's Dinner Theatre and the Howard County Chorus were among her local activities then. She graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts and Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Hargrove presently teaches voice and piano at the Roberson School of Music in Columbia, sings in the Howard University Chapel Choir and is applying for graduate studies at various schools.


Another solo performer who will be under the spotlight is Shawn Naar, 20, a graduate of Wilde Lake High School who is a theater student at Howard Community College. He's doing a monologue from Tarell Alvin McCraney's play "Marcus or the Secret of Sweet." He said about this dramatic speech: "Marcus is a young man growing up in Louisiana, 16 years old, and struggling with his sexuality, and that's the premise of the play and what it was to be in the South. It's his 'To be or not to be' monologue."

Naar, who is himself originally from Louisiana, moved to Columbia in 2007. He likes its proximity to Washington, D.C., which he describes as a "hot spot for theater."

For 34-year-old musical theater performer James Ginnever, "every audition is a competition." The Columbia resident will be doing the song "I'm Alive" from the musical "Next to Normal." Although Ginnever's parents live in Howard County and he studies voice privately in the county, this relatively seasoned actor will be performing locally for the first time at the gala

A graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, Ginnever has done a lot of regional theater and also been on extensive national tours for the Broadway shows "Cats" and "Wicked," playing a flying monkey in the latter. He also has a role in the shot-in-Baltimore movie "Step Up 2: The Streets."

Literally stepping lively is Ellicott City resident Margaret Kudirka, who is a senior at Towson University and already starting to audition for dance companies in New York. She decided to choreograph and perform a classical ballet solo to the Edith Piaf song "Je Ne Regrette Rien" for the upcoming gala, because "I thought about how she struggled in life and never gave up, and how I never gave up in dance."

MaryLee Adams, 24, also has a strong emotional attachment to the song she'll be performing in the competition, "Astonishing" from the musical "Little Women," because she read the source novel as a youngster.

Adams grew up as a performer in Howard County and did shows including "Hairspray" and "Nunsense" at Toby's, about which she said: "Toby's is definitely where I got my start and gained a sense of constantly being on stage in a real environment."

A graduate of Wilde Lake High School and Catholic University, she recently performed in "Spring Awakening" at Olney Theatre Center, moved to New York City, and got her Actors' Equity card.

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Margo Seibert, 28, will be doing the song "Here I Am" from the musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," about which she said: "I like that the song has a great energy to it."

Seibert graduated from Glenelg High School and American University. Growing up in Howard County, she also owes a lot to Toby's, where she sang in a production of "Evita" when she was 16 and went on to do other roles. She's done a lot of theater in Washington, moved to New York and just appeared in a national TV commercial for Yoplait yogurt.

The Dahlia Flute Duo, comprised of Melissa Wertheimer and Mary Matthews, is a classical group, but it will emulate the contemporary music known as beat boxing when it performs Nicole Chamberlain's "Chatter."

Matthews said "it's a lot of fun to play." Both 26, these musicians met at Peabody Institute and formed their duo there. Their Howard County ties include Candlelight Concert Society outreach concerts and playing at the Bain Senior Center. Matthews presently is based in Hartford, Ct., and Wertheimer teaches at Howard Community College.

Among other Rising Star contestants, Tian Lu and Yuri Shadrin have had a piano duo since 2008. Both are pursuing graduate degrees at the Peabody Institute, where they study with Leon Fleisher and Kathy Jacobson Fleisher. Tian Lu leads the adult and youth choirs at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Jennifer Sung, who was raised in Ellicott City, is studying classical voice at the Manhattan School of Music, in New York.


Pianist Woobin Park, who has taught piano privately in Howard County, has a bachelor's degree from Ewha Womans University, in Seoul, South Korea; went on to receive a master's degree from Indiana University; and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota. Park is no stranger to competitions, having won awards including the 2004 Liszt International Piano Competition.