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'Everybody around me started freaking out.' Lakeview Academy student wins Shuler Award, goes on to national musical theater competition
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Ari Mikels, a junior at Lakeview Academy, won Best Leading Actor in the 2021 Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards. He played the lead role of Officer Lockstock in the musical, "Urinetown," which was recorded and submitted to judges. Photo courtesy Lakeview Academy.

Ari Mikels, a junior at Lakeview Academy, said he’ll never forget the spark that ignited his passion for theater. 

In the fifth grade, he played the role of the pumpkin that transforms into a carriage in a children’s version of “Cinderella.”

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Ari Mikels, a junior at Lakeview Academy, won Best Leading Actor in the 2021 Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards. Photo courtesy Lakeview Academy

“I didn’t get turned into a carriage, I just wore a pumpkin costume, and then our Cinderella just rode on my back the entire time,” Mikels said with a chuckle. “It was amazing.”

Now, in high school, Mikels tackled his biggest theatrical challenge yet — competing in the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as The Shuler Awards

In order to enter the program, Mikels acted in a musical put on by his school. The performance of “Urinetown” was recorded and sent off to be judged. 

To Mikels’ surprise, he won the state award for Best Leading Actor. The awards ceremony was televised via Georgia Public Broadcasting on May 20. 

“They usually go for the really high tenor voices, and I am not that,” Mikels said. “But, when they called my name, everybody around me started freaking out. I just sat there with my hands in front of my mouth for a good 10 minutes. It was really cool.”

The Shuler Awards, presented as the Shuler Hensley Awards, are named for the Marietta-born stage and screen star. This year’s award recipients include students from different public and private schools across Georgia. Some of the different categories are overall production, direction, music direction, choreography, costumes, leading actress and leading actor. 

Mikels said his lead role, which earned him the honor, proved his most difficult performance.

Wearing a police uniform and graying mustache, Mikels played antagonist and narrator “Officer Lockstock.”

The musical, “Urinetown,” is set in a fictional place where a drought has forced the outlawing of private toilets. In order to use the restroom, people must pay to use a public toilet. Mikels said the show focuses on a “group of poor people who can barely get by.” 

If people break the rules put in place, they’re sent to “Urinetown,” which Mikels said involves being thrown off the side of a building. However, his character, who enforced the rules, is the only one fully aware of this. 

“The hardest part and reason he (Officer Lockstock) was my favorite I’ve ever played is because he is an older character,” Mikels said. “I had to learn a new way of acting to play him. Everything, from the way I walked, to my voice had to be different from anything I’ve ever done.”

Mikels said he is grateful for the support of his mom and direction of teachers Joe Harris, Gretchen Plummer and Cece Conrath.

Mikels will move on to represent Georgia at the the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, commonly called the Jimmy Awards. The virtual awards show will be held July 15. 

Mikels said he doesn’t intend to major in theater in college but may choose it as a minor. The student said he wants to keep his degree options open and focus on pursuing a career in voice acting for cartoons and games.

When on stage, Mikels said he enjoys feeling the reactions from the audience, especially when they laugh. He said he can’t pinpoint why he loves acting, but it’s something he will continue to treasure.

“There’s really no particular reason. I just thought it was really fun,” he said.