Ovation! talent show to showcase young performers, benefit Lawrence Schools Foundation

Student performers share the stage together during the first-ever Ovation! talent show Jan. 22, 2017 at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. This year's show, once again benefitting the Lawrence Schools Foundation, is slated for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 and will once again feature middle and high school students from across the Lawrence district.

More than two dozen young performers will have their chance to shine this Sunday on the Lied Center stage, all for a good cause.

The second annual Ovation! talent show will once again feature some of the Lawrence school district’s most talented middle and high school students in a fundraiser benefiting the Lawrence Schools Foundation. At its helm is Lawrence High School senior Graham Edmonds, who created and staged the inaugural event last January as part of an internship at the Lied Center.

He’s serving as executive producer this time around, and he says to expect the same kind of variety — this year’s talented crop of performers includes everything from aerial trapeze to ballet to a pair of teenage contortionists — showcased at the first Ovation.

“I know this is just the second year, but just the amount of talent in Lawrence in the middle schools and high schools — some people, I had no idea that they had these talents,” says Edmonds, 17. “It’s just really cool to see everyone have their chance to shine.”

He sees growing interest in the event he helped to create with Lied Center executive Derek Kwan and Lawrence Schools Foundation executive director Dena Johnston. Edmonds said almost twice as many kids showed up to auditions for the second installment as they did for the first.

The Free State Performance Ensemble, a 25-piece concert band comprising mostly Free State High School students, has been rehearsing once a week since September in preparation for the concert, according to its young director. Elliott Whisenant, a 15-year-old Free State sophomore, says he began putting the group together last fall in preparation for this year’s Ovation! auditions.

He and his buddies had been looking for an opportunity to perform “Soviet March,” James Hannigan’s popular theme for the “Command and Conquer: Red Alert” video game, since their days at Southwest Middle School. But they’d never had a real shot at it until now, Whisenant says.

The triple-threat musician — Whisenant plays clarinet, oboe and piano — doesn’t have any solid plans to continue his Free State Ensemble beyond Ovation!, but he also says he’s learned a lot from the experience so far.

“One of the main things that sticks out is that when the director or the conductor steps onto the podium, whether it be in a marching band or concert band, I kind of know where they’re coming from,” Whisenant says. ” … It’s given me a new perspective on how the band operates.”

For Edmonds, who plans on majoring in either film production or music industry after graduation, providing opportunities for fellow arts-inclined students is a source of pride.

“There’s this added benefit of letting kids show off their talent and getting a chance to perform on a big stage,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Last year’s show raised about $4,000 in ticket sales for the Lawrence Schools Foundation. This year, Edmonds says, he’s aiming for $6,000. Next year, he’ll likely be attending college out of state, but he hopes to see the event continue in some fashion and, importantly, remain a talent show by students, for students.

“We’ve actually tried to set up a system where we have some student ambassadors from the middle schools and high schools,” Edmonds says. “So, hopefully one of those students will be interested in taking the reins going forward.”