Jon Butler in Seussical

Jon Butler performs as Horton in Burnsville High School’s production of “Seussical the Musical.”

A local teen actor and recent winner of a prestigious high school musical theater honor headed to the Great White Way this week.

Jon Butler, a Burnsville High School graduate, earned a Triple Threat honor this month from the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program. His prize: a ticket to five Broadway shows and an opportunity to take classes and audition with industry professionals in New York City.

“My dream job is singing and acting and dancing on the stage as much as I can,” Butler said. “If that means it lands me here in the cities or out on the coast somewhere — it doesn’t really matter much to me where I am, as long as I’m around people that are exploring and challenging their craft.”

Butler performed in various productions with the Burnsville High School Theater Guild, most recently starring as Horton in Suessical.

The performance was named an outstanding performance in a leading role by Spotlight Education, a statewide theater enrichment program offering master classes, performance and networking opportunities and awards for high school students.

Each year, Spotlight Education representatives attend high school theater productions to offer feedback and ratings. Casts and individual performers earning an outstanding rating are invited to perform during an annual showcase.

The road to becoming a Triple Threat-winner began with a rigorous audition process in February, Butler said. He submitted a taped audition and then completed a live audition and callback before being selected as one of 26 triple threat finalists.

Butler performed live at the State Theatre in Minneapolis during the Spotlight showcase and was one of four performers recognized for excellence in acting, singing and dancing — the triple threat — and won the all-expense-paid New York trip.

“I’m really excited to get some experience, throw myself out there and possibly get some connections and exposure,” Butler said.

Ari Koehnen Sweeney, Hennepin Theater Trust’s director of education, said more than 100 Minnesota high schools participate in the program and the organization plans to continue growing.

For triple-threat students, days in New York are packed with master classes and mock auditions before heading out to see Broadway shows in the evening. Following their first show, “The Prom,” students can tour backstage and talk to cast members.

“It’s been really fun, it’s a fun trip,” Koehnen Sweeney said.

In the fall, Butler plans to study musical theater at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle. He said his performance as Bert in Burnsville High School’s fall production of “Mary Poppins” shaped his decision to pursue theater professionally.

“That was because of the people I was around; the wonderful, loving, supportive friends that I’ve been blessed to have in that theater guild and just the atmosphere that is stressful but also supportive and welcoming,” he said.

Butler said his drive to be an artist stems from his belief that art creates change in society.

“It’s so real, it’s so present; it’s like stepping into someone’s shoes and trying to understand what they went through,” he said. “Art and theater should sometimes make people feel a little bit uneasy and stir things up.”

Christine Schuster is a reporter for the Savage Pacer.

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