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First Hidalgo County High School Theatre Awards to take place in April

Often competing only once a year, local high school theatre programs have geared up for a competition no one is likely to forget.

This fall, 18 schools competed with productions of famous musicals and stage plays, the results of which will be announced at the first ever Hidalgo County High School Theatre Awards Show: The Palms.

thepalmslogoMichael Alebis, who organized most of the event, described the process of bringing everyone together and generating interest in the community.

“It was brought up that Austin does this Tony Awards-type thing,” Alebis said. “And nobody seemed to know anything about it. We said maybe we’ll do that in a couple of years.”

Alebis contacted high school theatre directors across the Valley in July of last year.

“I called about 20 directors, just asking their opinions,” Alebis said. “And I did not get one negative opinion about this, they all said ‘Hey, go for it.’ That’s when we started thinking, ‘Well, directors say okay to this, they said they’d probably enter.’”

It took a couple of months to organize. Alebis got the calendars and put everything together for the judges. He was able to find nine to attend all the shows entered.

“They were all qualified to do this,” Alebis said. “They all have degrees in theatre and film, all actively participating or directing in STC or other places. They’re actively doing this work.”

Gilberto Zepeda also helped organize The Palms Awards with Alebis. The pair used to direct theatre at PSJA North in the nineties, and now, retired, found a new venue to promote theatre and theatre education in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We feel very strongly, and so do all the other directors, that people from the Valley could do it,” Zepeda said. “The kids that we have here are just as good as the kids from Austin, or Houston or Dallas. The pool of talent is just as strong here. These students deserve the kind of recognition that other kids are getting.”

As this is the first year of The Palms, Alebis and Zepeda had to maneuver through a new territory. Alebis, who does contest managing for the University Interscholastic League’s annual One Act Play competition, is somewhat familiar with the process.

Sponsored by the McAllen Performing Arts Center, the awards will be held on April 21, at 7 p.m.

“If we don’t have a place to have it, we can’t do it,” Alebis said. “They liked the idea a lot, and wanted to become the sponsor of it all.”

With these awards, however, comes a new development. A former student of Alebis and Zepeda, Marissa Carranza Hernandez, is now an attorney, and she helped them set up a non-profit organization called The Palms Scholarship Fund.

“We want to make this different from UIL, where they just get medals or little trophies,” Alebis said. “We want to actually give financial assistance. And the only way to do this is to raise money. This year, who knows if we’ll give money away at all.”

These financial awards aim to encourage and promote fine arts education for RGV students. When the non-profit gains enough sponsors, students competing in The Palms could potentially win money for their college education. Alebis and Zepeda are hopeful.

The Palms will not just be a simple awards ceremony. The six schools nominated for Best Production of a Musical will all be performing musical numbers from their show, and the event is to be hosted by RGV native Oscar Munoz, a renowned magician.

“It’s about time that we show the rest of the world that South Texas has a great bunch of theatrical, artistic people,” Munoz said. “We want to show people that there is talent here. The industry can work here in the Valley, and we need to show them that there are a lot of kids who would love to be part of the arts, theatre and movies.”

Schools could enter musicals, plays, or both. Three high schools entered both a fall play and musical into the race. In total, 21 shows competed.
Nominees were announced at a special breakfast held on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the MPAC.

All of the Big 7 schools received nominations:
Veterans Memorial High School – Fiddler on the Roof
Best Ensemble
Best Sound Design
Best Actor in a Musical (Samuel Gonzalez)
Mission High School – The Lion King
Best Scenic Design
Best Lighting Design
Best Costume Design
Palmview High School – Hairspray
Best Ensemble
Best Scenic Design
Best Costume Design
Best Lighting Design
Best Technical Crew
Best Sound Design
Best Choreography
Best Production
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Naileen Perez)
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Denali Garza)
Juarez-Lincoln High School – Beauty and the Beast
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Rolando Campos)
La Joya High School – Assassins
Best Sound Design
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Alan Salinas)
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Rosbel Morales)
Sharyland High School – High School Musical
Best Costume Design
Best Choreography
Sharyland Pioneer High School – The 39 Steps
Best Featured Performer (Madison Sparks)

The Palms Scholarship Fund’s P.O. Box is 4121 N. 10th St. #170, McAllen, Texas, 78504. They can also be contacted through email,

The Palms Hidalgo County High School Theatre Awards will be held April 21, 2018, at the McAllen Performing Arts Center located at 801 Convention Center Blvd. The link to buy tickets is online, at the event’s Facebook page.

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