ST. GEORGE — Rebekah Uyleman, a senior at Tuacahn High School for the Arts, was recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation as a 2021 merit winner in theater.
The road to this achievement began very early, when while on a family road trip from Santa Clara, Calif., to San Diego. Her mother, Tanya Uyleman, told St. George News that they had borrowed a CD from the library called “Broadway Kids” to listen to on the drive, which played nonstop for 8 hours. Rebekah kept asking to listen again.
“All the sudden we turned it down and — as a 4-year-old — she knew all the songs that were on that CD, and she was singing it just as good as those kids,” she said. “We were just like, ‘What is going on?’ She was just singing in the car like a little Broadway star.”
Recognizing the talent, Uyleman enrolled her daughter into programs for the performing arts.
But things changed when her daughter was around 12 years old. After being accepted into Santa Clara’s 49ers STEM Institute, a program for science, technology, engineering and mathematics that runs from middle school to high school, she had to give up theater.
“We just saw her decline – her happiness, her joy,” Tanya said, her voice filling with emotion. “She just became so sad and depressed; and at that point, we just reevaluated and asked her what it was that she really wanted in life. And she said, ‘All I want to do is sing, Mom.'”
After that, they took her out of the STEM program and experienced a type of “paradigm shift,” as they were used to living in the Bay Area, where a major focus is centered on STEM and “push, push, push in that direction.”
“We took a breather as parents,” she said. “And realized we just want her to be happy.”
After putting her back into the theater, she said she watched her daughter come back to life and out of the depression.
It was at this point that they started to consider whether a huge school in California was the best choice and began to look at Tuacahn High, as they were familiar with Tuacahn after having visited relatives in the area every summer and had gone to shows as well as participated in some of their summer theater programs.
A few months before her daughter was set to start high school, Uyleman said they decided to go check out Tuacahn High and it “just felt right.”
“We packed up everything, and we just moved to Ivins,” she said, with a laugh.
Now some four years later, finding out that her daughter was winning a national award was “super exciting.”
“You know, you get to a place, for her at least, when she started to feel like, ‘Am I really good enough? Are my parents just biased? Do I really have talent and what it takes to get into this really difficult world of auditioning,'” she said. “This gave her the validation to keep on going, to keep pushing forward and not give up on herself. This was just a gift for her.”
Kyle Lewis, artistic director and theater instructor at Tuacahn High, worked closely with Rebekah Uyleman as she prepped for the competition. This was the first year that Tuacahn had students enter the competition, he said, and they had a total of five students who submitted.
“They won’t listen to your vocals until you can prove that you can act first because they’ve had students who have won and actually been placed directly into Broadway shows,” he said.
She had to submit four pieces, with each one being under four minutes, and was comprised of one contemporary monolog, one classical monolog, one contemporary musical selection and one classical musical selection.
Lewis directed the acting portion of these pieces, and they prepped for about six weeks before we filming it. The thing that most intrigued Lewis about this competition, he said, was the focus on the idea of truth rather than just acting, a concept that mirrors his own classes.
“How do I find the character and create an atmosphere so the words sound like they belong to the student who’s saying them? Much like we see in television,” he said. “Can we pull that same thing off on stage?”
In working with Uyleman throughout her time at Tuacahn, he said her standout quality is her “ravenous” desire to learn and soak up information.
“Rebekah is so good at taking notes — she has such a beautiful voice — but she is so good at taking notes as to what’s believable and what’s not believable and when it feels like she’s shifting into a new thought or idea,” he said. “She’s just really fantastic about taking ideas home, working on them and coming back and showing what she discovered.”
Lewis said he was blown away when he found out she won, as every competition has a certain set of desired elements that participants have to figure out and then sculpt their material toward that. With this being their first year competing, he just expected that they would be trying to figure out “the game.”
“When she was recognized right off the bat, not that I was blown away by her ability, I knew she had it in her, my only thought was, ‘Are we preparing her properly?’ So the good news is, we are doing some things right,” he said. “But I was overjoyed and happy, as she kind of put us on the map.”
The National YoungArts Foundation chooses winners based on the caliber of artistic achievement, and recipients become part of an alumni where they have a chance to network with a community of over 20,000 people, as well as receive opportunities and support throughout their artistic careers.
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