When the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) recently reached out for support in promoting their upcoming NextNow Fundraiser and Winter Dance, I jumped at the chance. Every time I am with a UNCSA student I am reminded of why the arts matter. Where others might simply see a young actress, filmmaker, dancer or designer, I see a disciplined and innovative professional whose talent is critical to progress.
I see someone who understands the importance of self-awareness and collaboration and is willing to take risks.
Someone who has taken the time to develop a natural voice through hard work and embodies the perseverance required to thrive in this complex world.
I am constantly in awe.
NextNow is UNCSA’s annual scholarship benefit, and the funding generated through this event gives the school the ability to provide competitive awards that will attract and retain the very best students from around the world.
We, as a community, ultimately reap the rewards of these scholarships by having such an intense pool of young creative talent in our backyard with countless opportunities to see the next great artists now.
Leveling the playing field for success.
This was evident as I sat with college senior, Chessa Metz in the school’s library cafe. A native North Carolinian, Chessa first learned about UNCSA, the country’s first public arts conservatory, through a summer intensive program while in high school. Shortly after attending that program she was encouraged to enroll as a full-time student to finish out her senior year of high school. “There is something about being in a place where everyone else is as invested, talented and passionate about their craft as you are. You just cannot get that in a public high school setting.”
A natural talent with a work ethic to match, Chessa earned several competitive collegiate opportunities at prominent national institutions after high school. But when it came down to making her selection, she said UNCSA was her clear choice because of the financial assistance and genuine support available to her at the school.
“With the background that I come from, I am so grateful for the chance to feel like I have the same opportunities as everyone else. To not have to constantly worry about money or feel like I’m struggling all of the time was such an incredible relief.”
“Being in an acting program, I was able to root through a lot of things that I didn’t allow myself to process growing up. I feel like I’m walking away, five years later, better able to present a truer version of myself. This is helpful in all areas of life – personal and professional.”
She adds, “Acting is really just teaching you how to be empathetic. I’m now much easier with myself and less judgmental of others. So aside from all of the technical skills I have learned, I feel like the work I’ve done to understand myself will make the rest of my life happier.”
Like many UNCSA artists, Chessa certainly put the “full” in “full-time student”. A snapshot of her schedule included classes all day followed by performance rehearsals for a major musical followed by rehearsals for a second, student-run production until 1:00 am.
While her days are full, she still feels energized because she’s committed to doing something she loves – and that matters. She has also built key relationships through advisors, professors and industry professionals during her time as a student to give herself an advantage when entering the New York City market later this year.
Building confidence for life.
Filmmaking student and fellow senior, Torin Bradshaw echoes this sentiment. Raised in Memphis, Torin says that what he found most attractive about UNCSA was the unique opportunity for hands-on training from day-one. He plans to head to L.A. after graduation and says, “ I definitely feel confident about joining the film industry. After all, that is really what this school sets out to do – give real world experience so you have the confidence you need to succeed.”
Like Chessa, Torin was awarded a full scholarship to cover his college expenses based on academic achievement, talent and community involvement. He still remembers his parents’ tears of joy when he was awarded his scholarship. “It took a huge financial burden off of them – and me.” Entering the workforce debt-free is invaluable to him because he can focus on building his career instead of paying off debt. While in school, his scholarship also afforded him the opportunity to forgo working multiple part-time jobs and instead invest more time on his film training. He says he learned early on that continuous practice is what sets you apart, along with constant communication and collaboration with peers. “The more you meet with your crew the better your work will be. We learned to figure things out together, like new programs and production challenges. Now I know how to successfully handle these things in the real world.”
Invest in others and invest in yourself.
In a few short weeks, on Saturday, February 25th UNCSA will host their annual NextNow scholarship fundraiser, presented by Wells Fargo. It includes the School of Dance’s Winter Dance Concert, with special guests, members of the Paul Taylor II company, followed by the NextNow after-party with UNCSA students and honorary chairs, Dwana Smallwood (Dance ’93), named “one of the greatest modern dancers” by Vogue magazine, and Wanda Plemmons (Dance ’68), founder of the Academy of Dance Arts in Winston-Salem. They are promising a dance party you won’t soon forget.
Tickets for the fundraiser start at $200 per person and can be purchased here. Proceeds directly benefit students like Chessa and Torin and passionate young artists like them. A small investment considering you’re helping to foster the type of talent that has historically inspired and moved us all. Plus, these students know how to put on one heck of a show, and there is no greater stage for them than the one right here, right now in Winston-Salem.