Morgan Traud has long dreamed of winning best actress at the Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater.
As a freshman at Baldwin High School, she wrote her senior self a note expressing her desire to win. She even practiced in her bedroom what her acceptance speech would be like.
Now, four years later and just before she was about to graduate from Baldwin, that dream came true.
On May 25, on the Benedum Center stage, Traud won “best actress” for her role as “Mame” in the show named the same.
“It’s just been a reach goal for such a long time that I can’t believe that I actually accomplished it,” said Traud, 18, of Whitehall.
Traud fell in love with the theater at a young age.
Decked out in a Princess Belle costume, she attended her first show, “Beauty and the Beast” at the Benedum Center at 4 years old.
At the end, she turned to her mom and said, “I feel different now!”.
But, at a young age, Traud struggled with self-confidence. She was shy and didn’t like to get up in front of people. The first time she sang in front of her grandparents, she recalls hiding behind a door.
It was through theater that she overcame that.
Traud started taking classes at the Center for Theater Arts in Mt. Lebanon when she was 9 years old.
She went on to participate in shows there, attend summer camp at the Pittsburgh CLO and take classes at Pittsburgh Musical Theater.
But it wasn’t until her sophomore year at Baldwin — the first time she was nominated for best actress at the Gene Kelly’s — that she realized, “I could do this” as more than a hobby.
At Baldwin, she’s had big roles, from supporting actress Jenny Hill in “Big Fish” her freshman year, to lead actress Luisa in “Zorro,” Betsy in “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and Mame in “Mame.”
She’s been in about 20 shows total, thus far. But the experience at Baldwin has been special.
Director Jason Coll strives to select shows that no other school in the area has done in recent years.
“I just love that he chooses such out of the box shows for us to do,” Traud said.
The Gene Kelly awards have provided an avenue for her to make connections with other actors and actresses throughout the area.
She didn’t win best actress her sophomore year, but she still loved the experience.
“Winning isn’t everything. Just getting to experience it twice, it’s such a big honor,” she said.
But the win this year was special.
“Honestly, I blacked out a little bit,” she said. “I had to take two seconds to be like, ‘Wait, did they just say my name?’”
Winning best actress means Traud gets to head to New York City to compete in the Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.
She will participate in a week of coaching and meetings with directors, casting agents and performers before taking the Minskoff Theater stage for either a medley or tribute performance with the other actresses. The Jimmy Awards will be held June 24.
The Minskoff Theater stage is a Broadway stage.
“So, basically, I get to perform on Broadway, which is really cool,” Traud said.
Coll, in a statement provided through the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, expressed his happiness for Traud.
“I’m so excited for Morgan,” he said. “The Gene Kelly Award win has opened up a lot of opportunities for her, including participating in the Jimmy Awards in New York City. She’s an amazing talent.”
Traud’s dream is to someday land on Broadway. She’d be happy anywhere, though, as long as she’s performing.
She is headed to Long Island University’s Post Campus in the fall to major in musical theater.
“I’m really grateful to everyone who helped me along the way,” she said, crediting her mom and dad, Nicole and Carl, for helping her to achieve her dreams.