2nd annual Palm Awards recognizes high school theater talent

A performance of the musical Chicago entertains the audience during the Palm High School Theater Awards on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at the McAllen Performing Arts Center on Sunday. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Hundreds of high school students filled the lobby of the McAllen Performing Arts Center, passing through a red carpet as they filed into their seats at the 2nd Annual Palm Awards.

Teenagers from all over the Rio Grande Valley dressed in formal attire as they anxiously waited to hear the results. Organized by the McPAC, the Palm Awards gives young actors the opportunity to attend an award show “that mirrors the Tony’s in New York City.”

A performance of the musical Chicago entertains the audience during the Palm High School Theater Awards at the McAllen Performing Arts Center on Sunday, April 7, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

In its first year, one set of judges watched 14 nominated musicals and another set watched seven nominated plays to select the best of the best.  This year, judges watched 21 musicals and 14 plays. At this year’s event, 13 Palms for musicals and 12 for plays were awarded, much like the Tony’s.

According to Sergio Sauceda, theater director at PSJA Southwest High School, the beginning of the awards marked a shift in era for high school theater in the Valley. Last year their school was nominated for nine awards, but didn’t end up taking any home. This year they were nominated for 20.

“Now with the Palms we need to worry about what the judges will think. It adds a different element to it,” he said. “I think the quality overall is getting better because of the Palm awards … You just have to make it bigger every year. You always want to top your last show.”

This year, their school put on two productions: Willy Wonka the musical, and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Each production took months of preparation and rehearsing.

Students are often borrowed from different extracurricular activities, Sauceda said, so getting enough practice is always difficult. Even though he had a larger cast this year than last, Sauceda said they still managed to come out with a production they were proud of.

Che Greeno, 16-year-old junior at PSJA Southwest, played Willy Wonka in the play. The production incorporated students from surrounding middle schools, which he thought was an important way to spark interest in theater among younger kids.

The Pharr resident said the Palm Awards have helped him gain the confidence he needs to pursue a career in the industry once he graduates.

“I think it’s great that they are putting on the Palm Awards,” Che said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for young actors to get a sense of understanding what the real world will be like and getting to grow in that sense.

“They helped me grow and given me some recognition and validation, which is really important.”

The same is true for Christopher Nicanor, a sophomore from PSJA Southwest who played Macedonio Guerra in the Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. His character is a talented Hispanic wrestler who is forced to lose in order to benefit the company he works for and is subject to racial prejudice. Christopher was nominated for the best male actor category.

“Not to brag or anything, but being nominated for best actor makes me feel like all my hard work is being recognized,” the 16-year-old Pharr native said. “Theater is really important to me and it’s something that’s really important to our communities.”