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Local girl wins two outstanding actress awards

Date: 8/16/2010

Aug. 16, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- Sarah Banning loves musical theater.

"I love how I can just break out into song. It really is the way life should be. I've tried to do that in real life and people just give me looks and I'll just stop," Banning said. "I've done probably 20 musicals and four plays, so that should say something about how much I love them."

Now the 17-year-old Banning's enjoyment of musicals and her New York-based theater group, Kidz Theater, which her mother first told her about, have culminated into a great moment of personal success.

Banning has earned two National Youth Theatre Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for her roles as Mother in "Ragtime" and The Baker's Wife in "Into the Woods."

"They told me I won two and I was like, 'what?' I couldn't believe it. It was crazy," Banning recalled.

Playing Mother, according to Banning, was a challenge because of the nature of the role. Also making it a special role for her was the fact that "Ragtime" was her first show with Kidz Theatre.

"That was my favorite role. I loved it. It was such a different role for me," Banning said. "I've played serious parts before, but never like that. I think that's the biggest part I've ever had."

The Baker's wife offered different challenges for Banning, but ones that she embraced.

"Some people say it's not the best part to play because she's really bland, but I liked giving her some oomph and spice," Banning said. "It was fun figuring out stuff to do with the character to make it my own."

Banning, a senior at Longmeadow High School, has been involved in theater since seventh grade, but her interest in the performing arts started much earlier.

"I picked up the violin and the piano because I wanted to be like my cousin," Banning said. "Then in fifth grade there was this little talent show and I decided to sing a Christina Aguilera song. I could belt it, which was weird and everybody said, 'You can sing!'"

Banning said one of the reasons her experience with Kidz Theater has been so enjoyable is because of how focused and serious about acting everyone is.

"Every single person is talented. Everybody puts everything into their part," Banning explained. "If you're 'Tree number two,' you'll research it and make sure that you know everything about that tree so it's perfect. I love the work ethic."

She didn't notice just how big the difference was until after she had performed in Ragtime. In the time between that show and Into the Woods, she performed with another company and instantly noticed a different level of commitment.

"It really hit home how professional we are in Kidz Theater," Banning said. "Even though we're kids, we are taking this extremely seriously."

Banning is unsure how many shows she will do in the coming year as she prepares to start applying to college.

She is sure of one thing: acting is a big part of her future. She plans to study theater at one of seven schools she's decided to apply to. It is not an easy process.

"You have to have two songs and two monologues and you have to be ready to dance. It's insane," Banning said.

New York University, where she's applying for early decision, is her first choice.

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