Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre awarded scholarship grants totaling $4,000 to four recent graduates of Neshaminy High School who are planning to study the performing arts in college this fall.
The four recipients from the class of 2021 are Kate Bilenko, Grace McKenna and Yasmine Nicolas, all from Langhorne, and Cody Lewandowski, of Feasterville.
NVMT is a nonprofit scholarship organization offering competitive grants since its founding in 1956 to students graduating from the Neshaminy School District and planning to study the fine or performing arts in college. The organization hosts an annual musical, with proceeds going into a scholarship fund. Donors also contribute to the fund. To date, NVMT has awarded more than $160,000 in scholarships to nearly 200 students.
NVMT’s latest production Annie was scheduled to be presented in spring 2020 at the Neshaminy High School auditorium. However, just a few weeks before opening, the COVID-19 pandemic required the closing down of the high school’s facilities and the production. COVID-19 restrictions again prevented the production from taking place in 2021. Though the show was canceled, the NVMT board of directors decided to not only award scholarship grants to graduating seniors in 2020, but to also continue that tradition in 2021 in support of the next generation of artists. The organization is now hoping to present Annie in the spring of 2022.
“NVMT’s scholarship grant program has been one of the most positive and rewarding forces behind the success of our theater group for more than a half century,” said Tom Urquhart, president of the organization. “While we strive for excellence in our stage productions, it is always with the objective of providing funds for our scholarship grants in order to support deserving young people such as these in their quest to achieve their dreams. We’ve been most proud of our recipients and truly happy to have been able to help them.”
The NVMT scholarships were announced at Neshaminy’s class of 2021 senior awards night, held on May 27.
Bilenko received support from NVMT through the Evelyn McLean Memorial Scholarship Fund, named after the founder of NVMT. Bilenko will attend the theater arts program at Rider University in the fall. Her career goal is to be a professional performer and to one day appear on Broadway. Bilenko is a Vocal Merit Scholarship recipient at Settlement Music School and was awarded Outstanding Vocalist at Temple University’s 2020 Ellington Jazz Festival. She has trained in voice, ballet, tap, modern and jazz dance; plays piano, saxophone and guitar; and, besides English, speaks Russian and Spanish. She has performed in featured roles at the Kelsey Theatre, the Barn Playhouse, the Village Playbox and Rethink Theatrical, as well as at Neshaminy High School and Neshaminy Summer Stock.
Lewandowski and Nicolas received support from NVMT through the Dotti Gelenberg Memorial Scholarship.
Lewandowski will attend Coastal Carolina University pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater. His career goal is to perform professionally as an actor and singer once he completes his degree. Besides maintaining academic success, Lewandowski was active in Neshaminy High School’s Drama Club, Select Choir, Gym Night, Concert Choir and Men’s Choir, and was a member of the Roadies, a select group of the high school’s theater students. He also served as vice president of the school’s Drama Troupe and participated in Counterparts in Hope, an organization that benefits members of the theatrical community who have been furloughed due to the pandemic.
Planning to major in music education, Nicolas will be attending Valley Forge University in Phoenixville. A singer and actress, she is passionate about music and has performed in a number of musicals and plays. Her goal is to impact the lives of others in a positive way through music and teaching and to help her future students by improving their skills and providing motivation to pursue their dreams. After completing her college studies, she would like to teach in an urban setting, reaching out to students representing diversity in culture, national origin, race and beliefs. She has earned Distinguished Honor Roll designation every marking period while at Neshaminy High School and has continued to challenge herself by selecting rigorous academic courses. Her extracurricular activities include participation in the Friends Helping Friends Club, an anti-bullying group that promotes acceptance and inclusion.
McKenna received support from NVMT through the Joseph J. McGlade Memorial Scholarship Fund. She is enrolled in Rider University’s bachelor of fine arts musical theater program, minoring in arts and entertainment industries management, with a plan to enter the field as a working performer after college. McKenna was active in the Neshaminy High School dramatics program for three years, has served as president of the Neshaminy High Drama Troupe, and as a student officer for the Pennsylvania Thespian Board. Like Lewandowski, she has been a member of the high school’s Roadies and has participated in several community service activities, including Counterparts in Hope.
Given the absence of ticket income the past two seasons due to the pandemic and the delayed production of Annie, plus the commitment to continue to provide scholarships, NVMT has set up a GoFundMe campaign to support the scholarship fund. Those interested in supporting can donate at gofund.me/6189bc10. Additionally, checks made out to Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre can be mailed to P.O. Box 131, Langhorne, PA 19047.
The application process for 2022 scholarships, open to all graduating seniors of Neshaminy High School, will be available next spring.
Information on the rescheduled production of Annie will hopefully be announced in the fall. Patrons holding tickets for the canceled performances can use those tickets for the rescheduled performances next spring.
NVMT has received national recognition for its annual productions, including 32 nominations and seven wins from the International Music and Entertainment Association in categories such as outstanding performer, outstanding director and outstanding scenic design. All of the participants on stage and behind-the-scenes are volunteers.