Five recipients of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ most prestigious scholarships are settling in to classes for the 2019-20 academic year. They include three incoming college freshmen who have received with William R. Kenan, Jr. Excellence Scholarships; a rising college senior who has been awarded the Sarah Graham Kenan Scholarship; and a rising high school senior who has won the Elizabeth Harriet Weaver Memorial Scholarship.
The Kenan Excellence Scholarships pay for tuition, fees, room and board for four years of undergraduate study. Recipients enrolling as undergraduates this fall are Giovanni “Gio” Castellon from Miami, who studies in the School of Dance; Alyssa James of Apopka, Fla., who studies in the School of Drama; and Abrianna “Bri” Sigel of Brewster, Mass., who studies in the School of Filmmaking.
Nominated by the deans of each of UNCSA’s five arts schools from their top accepted applicants, Kenan Excellence scholarship candidates are considered based on their abilities in their arts discipline, capacity to lead and motivate, extracurricular achievement, grade point average, and SAT or ACT test scores.
The William R. Kenan, Jr. Excellence Scholarship program was established in 2005 by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust and was endowed by the Trust in 2011 with a $6 million grant. An additional $5 million pledge from the trust announced in June will increase the number of scholarships being funded from 12 to 20 annually.
The Sarah Graham Kenan Scholarship pays tuition, fees, room and board, plus a stipend for related expenses for the senior year of undergraduate study, and is awarded based on talent and artistic achievement, academic excellence, leadership and citizenship. For 2019-20, it is awarded to Carlo Feliciani Ojeda, who studies directing in the School of Drama.
In UNCSA’s high school program, the Elizabeth Harriet Weaver Memorial Scholarship is awarded to a rising 12thgrader considered to be the most promising artist. Desired attributes of the recipient include demonstrated motivation, dedication and self-discipline in support of his/her talent; exceptional vitality as an outstanding all-around student and individual; and outstanding academic achievement (3.2 or better cumulative GPA). This year’s recipient is Evelyn Robinson, a dancer from Flint, Texas.
At the New World School of the Arts High School, Gio Castellon participated in numerous productions and performed pieces through Miami Dance Collective. He has danced in works by renowned choreographers such as Robert Battle, Gerard Ebitz, Peter London, Peter Chu, Ohad Naharin, and Jessica Lang. He is also an award-winning international ballroom dancer and has trained with Ivan Mulyavka, Loreta Kriksciukaityte, Eugene Katsevman, Maria Manusova, Ana Llorente and Michael Chapman. Castellon has participated in prestigious summer intensives such as the Joffrey Ballet NYC Jazz and Contemporary Summer and the UNCSA Contemporary Dance Intensive.
In addition to his passion for dance, Castellon has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and also enjoys volunteer work, having been involved in many community service activities throughout his high school career including “The Nutcracker” by the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet and New World School of the Arts, a performance that raises money for underprivileged children in the community to receive dance instruction. He is currently the president of Future Business Leaders of America, NWSA Chapter, having been a member for three years, and is also a member of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts and the National Dance Council of America.
Castellon says, “The first time I got up on stage and saw the audience watching me dance, my life changed forever. The stage called me. I can express what I feel in profound ways that touch people’s hearts and minds. I found my passion and continue to pursue my place in the dance world.”
UNCSA Assistant Dean for Contemporary Dance Abigail Yager described Castellon as “an articulate and powerful mover, possessing unusual maturity and self-awareness.” She also noted that he “stood out among the other prospective students by his energy, commitment and sheer talent.”
Alyssa James discovered her passion for performing in elementary school and has been acting ever since, performing in every play and musical throughout her four years in high school. While maintaining stellar academics at Apopka High School with a 4.8 GPA, she was active in several clubs, including National Honor Society and Senior Class Council. She is a member of the International Thespians Society and was president of the Drama and Chorus Department her senior year.
James is passionate about sharing the arts with her community, whether that be through children’s theater tours or singing with a chamber choir in City Hall. She received a best actress award from her high school for her performance as Dotty Otley in “Noises Off” and recently music-directed and performed in her last musical in her home town. Along with acting, she loves to sing, read and go thrifting.
James says, “As an actor, I have a responsibility to give back. I need to be for others what the theater was (and is) for me. If people can see themselves in the art I create, cathartic change is spurred—maybe in one person’s heart, or even in an entire nation. Being onstage and sharing the vulnerable energy of being in the moment with a group of artists is exhilarating. Having the opportunity to genuinely share a character’s story through my experiences gives me the chance to uniquely touch the lives of those who come across it.”
Quin Gordon, director of recruitment for the School of Drama, said that out of a record number of 900 applicants for 30 spots, James was “easily among the top handful of candidates who stepped into our audition room this year. Alyssa’s audition revealed an actress of enormous gifts. Not one of her monologues was like the other -- the mark of a multifaceted and transformative partner.”
Bri Sigel is interested in directing and screenwriting. Passionate about writing and art since childhood, her path toward becoming a filmmaker was inspired by family trips to the Provincetown International Film Festival, where she heard directors and producers speak about films that portrayed countless ways to explore gender, love and identity. As a high school student, she was involved in numerous creative writing, filmmaking and service projects.
Academically, Sigel flourishes in the arts and languages, having been awarded the English Achievement Award three years consecutively at her International Baccalaureate school. She attended the New England Young Writers conference at Middlebury College for her fiction work. For her work as a club officer of her school’s anti-human trafficking club, in partnership with the organization Her Future Coalition, she was awarded the Wheelock College Book Award for supporting the human rights of women and children. In her higher level art course at school, she worked on creating a portfolio centering on the theme of divinity, and examining qualities that different cultures have deemed sacred. Her senior year extended essay centered on LGBTQ+ arts during the Harlem Renaissance, a subject which intrigued her as a way to explore history and the voices of storytellers whom she had not previously studied.
“I have always been a storyteller,” Sigel said. “I connect best with others through stories. Storytelling is the way humans relate and make connections, developing empathy for one another. I want to become a filmmaker to master the most powerful art form when it comes to creating change, and to develop my ability to express individual human experiences as universal.”
Interim Dean of Filmmaking Henry Grillo said Sigel’s “understanding of the power of motion pictures to create empathy and change attitudes is already well under development. Her appreciation of intricate detail and her ability to see into and beyond the things that surround us already endows her with a strong voice, which she is well prepared and poised to develop further in our program.”
Carlo Feliciani Ojeda was born in Caracas, Venezuela, but was raised in Weston, Fla. A graduate of the University School of Nova Southeastern University, he works every summer with Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts, a nonprofit organization that runs three-week theater workshops for middle and high school students in South Florida, New York, Kansas and Sweden.
Last spring, he was assistant director of the groundbreaking devised theater piece, “Still Life With Rocket.” In March 2020, he will direct, as his senior thesis project, the Mary Zimmerman adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey.”
As a member of UNCSA’s Artists Corps, he helps pre-K and first-grade students at Easton Elementary. He has also been a part of a group of actors, led by fellow classmate Ana Evans, who has devised and crafted performances for young audiences at Easton Elementary, Brunson Elementary and the Open Arms Community based on “The Giving Tree” and “Peter Pan.”
Faculty members who nominated Ojeda for the scholarship said, “With a keen intellect, infinite patience and a huge heart, Carlo is the leader in a class full of leaders” and “Carlo’s work possesses a maturity beyond his years.” Faculty also said: “Carlo treats collaborators kindly and as equals. That’s the kind of artist he is … always looking for ways to make the piece better, humbly and without ego.” They added: “Carlo is truly the embodiment of academic excellence, artistic talent, and above all, benevolent leadership.”
Evelyn Robinson began dancing at the age of three and started en point at age 11. She charmed local audiences with her performance as Columbine in Petipa’s “Harlequinade” during Spring Dance 2019.
Faculty members who nominated her said she is dependable, hardworking, unusually mature and values the opportunity to think and learn. With a lovely and generous personality, she maintains an unblemished standard of stellar personal integrity. She also has a patient persistence that allows her to carry herself with a confident optimism, and displays determination and mindfulness in her work in class and on stage, faculty added.
August 27, 2019