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Why Susan Lee Co-Founded the Jimmy Awards and the Roger Rees Awards

Both awards have been pivotal in launching the careers of future Broadway stars and fostering a love of theatre in young people.

The Jimmy Awards and Roger Rees Awards have long been celebrated as cornerstones of arts education, fostering a vibrant community that connects young talent with the prestige and excellence of Broadway. These awards, initiated by co-founder Susan Lee, have not only propelled the careers of many young performers but have also significantly contributed to the broader landscape of arts education.

The Jimmy Awards, officially known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, were conceived in 2009, inspired by Jimmy Nederlander's vision of nurturing the next generation of theater talent. Susan Lee recalls, "It started with an idea to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Palace Theatre, but quickly evolved into something much bigger. We brought talented kids from all over America to New York to celebrate the future of Broadway. It was an incredibly joyful, non-cynical environment that captured the imagination of the theater industry."

From its inception, the Jimmy Awards have provided a national platform for high school theater programs, showcasing the immense talent found across the country. This initiative has not only celebrated young performers but has also inspired local performing arts centers to engage with their communities in new and exciting ways. "Broadway suddenly had a national platform for celebrating the importance of theater arts education," Lee notes.

The impact of the Jimmy Awards extends far beyond the realm of Broadway. Many participants, even those who do not pursue careers in the arts, benefit immensely from the experience. Lee highlights, "The program gives students heightened opportunities to develop life skills such as leadership, presentation, and camaraderie. These skills are invaluable, regardless of whether they pursue a career in theater."

Similarly, the Roger Rees Awards, named in honor of the esteemed actor and director, serve as a regional complement to the Jimmy Awards, particularly within New York State. These awards recognize excellence in high school musical theater and provide students with opportunities to showcase their talents on a prominent stage. The Roger Rees Awards have become a pivotal element in fostering a deeper appreciation for the arts among students and educators alike.

Photo Credit: The Roger Rees Awards

Both award programs emphasize the importance of exposure to the arts. Lee states, "Arts education is about creating a civilized, literate group of humans. It's about teaching kids empathy, cultural awareness, and the importance of storytelling. These are fundamental skills that aren't always taught in traditional academic settings."

One of the key benefits of these awards is the validation they provide to theater and arts educators. Lee expresses deep admiration for these unsung heroes, "Theater and arts teachers are identifying and nurturing talented kids early in their lives. The Jimmy Awards have elevated and validated their work, highlighting the essential role they play in the development of young artists."

The impact of the Jimmy Awards and Roger Rees Awards is perhaps best exemplified by the success stories of their participants. Renowned performers such as Renee Rapp and Andrew Barth Feldman have emerged from these programs, showcasing the profound influence these initiatives have on nurturing future Broadway stars. "These awards have launched the careers of so many incredible performers," Lee remarks. "But more importantly, they have given countless students a platform to explore their passions and gain confidence in their abilities."

Looking ahead, the Jimmy Awards and Roger Rees Awards continue to inspire and empower the next generation of artists. Lee envisions a broader impact, stating, "Our hope is to engage more New Yorkers and people from across the country, encouraging them to support and participate in theater. These awards are about more than just celebrating talent; they're about fostering a lifelong appreciation for the arts."

In a time when the arts and the broader industry face numerous challenges, the Jimmy Awards and Roger Rees Awards remind us of the vital role arts education plays in our society and the transformative power it holds for young minds. As Lee puts it, "The arts provide a forum for students to become more of who they are. We need more of that."