Elena Holder and Bryson Battle Chat Winning THE 2021 JIMMY AWARDS
To many of us Broadway obsessed fans, The Tony Awards is our Superbowl, but the Jimmy Awards are a close second. Presented annually by The Broadway League Foundation, and traditionally held at the Minskoff Theatre, the Jimmys celebrate the best of the best of high school theatre. While in normal times, a group of students descend upon New York City and work with industry professionals in a 10 day intensive, out of an abundance of caution due to the ongoing pandemic, the awards were hosted virtually by Corbin Bleu last month.
This year’s top prize of Best Performance went to Elena Holder of Durham, NC and Bryson Battle of Charlotte, NC. I recently caught up with both winners separately via Zoom to chat about taking home the top prize, their dream roles, and our collective love of musical theatre. Our conversations have been edited for clarity and length.
Congratulations so much to the BOTH of you!
Elena: Thank you so much. I am still over the moon, this has all been insane!
Bryson: Thank you, thank you!
Take me back to that moment when they called your name. What was going through your head?
Elena: Well we had a small gathering at DPAC [Durham Performing Arts Center] where along with my fellow nominee Joshua Messmore, we got to all watch together. It was so lovely I got to invite my teachers, parents, and friends. The moment we found out I had won, I fell out of my chair! It was all so beautiful, surreal and insane. I cried a lot!
Bryson: I think overall everything about this process was very fulfilling. Getting to see all the work that me and my fellow nominees were able to put together was just so great.
Have you heard from any folks in the industry wishing you well?
Bryson: Reneé [Rapp] DM’d me which was really really special.
Elena: I heard from the 2019 winner Ethan Kelso and he was so sweet and kind. He told me this is going to be an insane, crazing thing that will happen and to just have the time of your life! I also just got a call from my town mayor who told me I was representing Durham really well so that was wild.
Speaking of North Carolina, what have you all got down in the water down there?
Elena: I know, it’s insane. North Carolina talent, we love to see it.
Bryson: I was just saying that to one of my friends. I feel like everyone just really sleeps on North Carolina but we are great down here.
Stepping back a bit, tell me about when you heard you were going to compete at this year’s Jimmy Awards.
Bryson: To be honest, I really just wanted to win my regional award. I wanted to win the Blumey Awards because that’s where Reneé and Eva [Noblezada] and all these incredible people come from. When I heard I was going to the Jimmys, it was just an even bigger plane. We are all “competing”, but we aren’t competing, we are really supporting everyone — for the longest time I had wanted to be a part of this. I remember having playlists of solo and group performances and now knowing that I got to be a part of that, it’s all incredibly fulfilling.
Elena: When they made the announcement, it was over Zoom and my jaw hit the floor. I wasn’t sure I heard it correctly. Throughout my whole experience I just had the most amazing and inspiring experience — I could not have asked for a better few weeks!
Walk me through the intensive you all went through and what you took away from it.
Elena: I had MaryAnn Hu as my couch and she was so fantastic and helpful. I feel like I made so many discoveries with her, she is literally the best. It was wild to be running around Durham and filming and we got to chat with past winners and industry professionals — it was like nothing I have ever experienced.
Bryson: It was really enlightening, getting to talk to folks from all different sides of the theatre industry from actors to casting directors. It was truly eye opening and something that I’m going to take with me forever. I had the wonderful Janet Dacal as my coach and I love her so so so much and she gave me this one piece of advice that I will never forget about perspective and I will always take that with me.
Do you have a favorite memory from this whole experience, besides winning of course?
Bryson: I do! After our first day of medley rehearsal, my medley group had a little video chat where we talked for a long time about the direction of theatre and where it is going. We as individuals are always very opinionated and vocal, but in this space we were just so respectful and chatted about how we want to see change and how we want to shape the world that we are all entering into. It made me so hopeful for the future.
Elena: I think one of my favorite moments was our Zoom with Rob McClure. I cannot speak higher of him oh my goodness! He was incredibly inspiring and shared some amazing industry secrets and folks were crying. It was by far the coolest Zoom I’ve ever been on!
Do you both have any dream roles you hope to tackle one day?
Elena: My dream is to play Jo from Little Women. My grandmother loves that story so much and she would love that.
Um, “Astonishing,” yes please.
Bryson: I have an entire list but I think Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Elphaba in Wicked. I really relate to being prejudged or being kind of looked down upon because of your appearance or something you can’t necessarily control so I resonate with both of these roles. But also I have to say Once On This Island. Alex Newell is one of my biggest inspirations and has had such an impact on me — seeing that they weren’t turned down because of their gender but what they could bring to the role was just so inspiring. I always go back to that show when I want to fall in love with theatre all over again.
If you could sum of your entire experience with the Jimmy Awards into one word, what would that be?
So what is next for the both of you?
Elena: I will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study vocal performance and psychology!
Bryson: And I am headed to the Boston Conservatory and just starting school, unless I get a life changing phone call which of course I am not opposed to. I am just excited to make a mark on this world and make a mark on theatre!