May 16, 2023

The Dazzle Awards & Me: Payton St. John

The 2023 Dazzle Awards, presented by Pat & John Chapman, are only a few days away! For those not in the know, the Dazzle Awards program offers arts education opportunities throughout the school year and culminates regionally at Playhouse Square with the Dazzle Awards ceremony,  to recognize outstanding musical theater productions and particiapting students.

As we ready ourselves for this year's ceremony, we caught up with one of our Dazzle alum, Payton St. John, to reflect on her time with the program and the lasting impact it had on her. 

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What have you been up to since you graduated high school? 

After graduating from Magnificat High School in May 2018, I moved to New York City to attend Marymount Manhattan College, graduating in May 2022 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dance, with choreography and modern concentrations. During my time at Marymount, I performed new creations and classic repertoire works from renowned choreographers, while presenting five of my own choreographic works. Both my self-choreographic, solo dance film Anima and my ensemble dance piece engorging were presented at Marymount’s 2021 and 2022 Honors Day, with engorging receiving the 2022 Dean’s Award for Excellence. In addition, I attended various outside dance programs, taking me throughout the United States, as well as Berlin, Germany, Montréal, Canada, and Tel Aviv, Israel. This past July 2022, I moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, where I worked with Fresco Dance Company, a professional contemporary dance company, for the past six months. 

What impact has the Dazzle Awards program had on your career? 

The Dazzle Awards program was a major highlight of my high school experience. I have a deep passion for art and art-making, so to have an entity that supports, cultivates, and celebrates performing artists is an unbelievable gift. Participating in the Dazzle Awards helped me to excavate more of myself, more of my artistic identity, while also finding confidence, trust, and belief in that artist. In addition, not only was it a phenomenal honor to work with renowned industry professionals through this program, but I gained immense inspiration from my fellow high school artists as well. I became part of a beautiful community, and I am still connected with so many people from the Dazzle Awards program. It was such a gift to enter the professional performing arts world, knowing that I had these people in my corner. 

Favorite memory from the Dazzle Awards program? 

My favorite memory from the Dazzle Awards program was the week leading up to the show, as well as the actual show of course! In this week, students from different schools, with different backgrounds and perspectives, came together to create a show. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be in that environment: learning from industry professionals, gaining endless inspiration from the students around me, performing at the infamous Connor Palace, and simply getting to do what I love! In addition, it was incredibly special to receive the first Spirit of the Dazzle Awards award. I remember being brought to the stage wings toward the end of the show with my Magnificat classmates. Someone had said that there was an issue with one of our props. I was so concerned with this issue, trying to make sure that everything was okay, and then, one of my classmates tapped me and gestured to the stage, so that I would pay attention and listen. I had absolutely no idea! I was shocked and deeply honored to be recognized in this way. It truly meant the world. 

Advice for students participating in the Dazzle Awards program now? 

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! There is truly nothing like the Dazzle Awards program: a program that is designed to inspire, encourage, and celebrate each unique, individual performing artist. Be yourself; that is always more than enough! Try not to be too hard on yourself and try not to compare yourself to your fellow artists. Rather, find the joy in learning, struggling, discovering, and growing; find the joy in gaining endless inspiration from the people around you. The Dazzle Awards program is unbelievably prolific: full of everything! Stay present, absorb every moment, give all that you are, be open, and receive it all! 

Why do you think theater is so important to young adults, like those participating in the Dazzle Awards? 

I feel that I gravitated to theater and the performing arts because it gave me the opportunity to better understand myself and the world. Theater is a gateway to everything. We have the ability to tell others’ stories, to go outside of ourselves, so that we can gain a greater understanding of other people and the world around us. At the same time, telling these stories and becoming different characters expands our own understanding of ourselves. We recognize the true existence of the infinite: that our world can be anything, that we can be anything. In fact, we learn that we are everything. 

What’s next for you? 

Honestly, I am not sure! At the moment, I am still living and dancing in Tel Aviv, but I am thinking about moving to Berlin and diving into the contemporary dance scene there. Time will tell!