Star power: Brownsville student from St. Joe wins theater scholarship

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Saint Joseph Academy 11th grader Madelynn Mircelle Gonzalez, shown her in the role of Mary in “Merrily We Roll Along” in December 2023, has been named a Texas Young Master by the Texas Cultural Trust and Texas Commission on the Arts. (Courtesy: Chris Ikner)

Madelynn Mircelle Gonzalez, an 11th grader at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, figured out early on that musical theater was where she wanted to be.

It all started when her dance instructor, Chris Ikner, asked Gonzalez if she was interested in auditioning for the part of a ballerina in a Camille Playhouse production of “Billy Elliot the Musical.” She was, and landed the part. Gonzalez and her instructor both noticed how much she loved performing, and she’s been working with Ikner ever since. In fact, it was he who encouraged her to enroll at St. Joe because of its theater program.

“The environment felt so safe to me,” Gonzalez said. “It was just a second home, honestly.”

Her dive into musical theater has brought her a number of scholarships and accolades, including Best Actress, District Champions, and All-Star Cast in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) One Act Play District Competition; a Broadway World 2021 Regional Award for Best Supporting Performer in a Play; and State Champion in the TAPPS Team Dance Competition.

In 2022, Gonzalez, who’s been dancing since she was 2, was awarded the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative Training Scholarship, with which she attended the Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute in South Carolina. In 2023, she trained at the Summer University Theatre Experience in Los Angeles, attended a dance intensive at Steps on Broadway with dance teacher, choreographer and producer Mike Baerga, and completed a master class in New York with musical theater performer and writer Jacob Ryan Smith.

Most recently, Gonzalez was named a Texas Young Master by the Texas Cultural Trust and Texas Commission on the Arts. The honor, which recognizes 8th to 11th graders highly accomplished in music, theater, dance, visual arts, literature and other artistic disciplines, comes with a $10,000 scholarship grant, which she intends to use to attend a summer program at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York.

Gonzalez concedes that “it’s a big deal,” and said she’s grateful to Texas Young Masters for giving her the opportunity to grow in something she’s “truly passionate about.” Gonzalez said she’s excited to be attending the celebration and awards show April 16 at the ZACH Theatre in Austin, and is still looking for the right outfit.

The Texas Cultural Trust will also honor arts patrons and philanthropists Sarah and Dr. Ernest Butler, who recently gifted $2.5 million to fund the Young Masters program — the Trust’s largest private donation to date.

Gonzalez is also a finalist for the Majestic Empire Foundation’s Joci Awards, which also comes with a $10,000 scholarship. Her performance as “Mary” in “Merrily We Roll Along” in December won her the nomination for that award. The awards ceremony takes place May 5 at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio.

Gonzalez admitted that pursuing her dream — which she hopes leads her to a professional musical theater career on Broadway — takes many, many after-school hours and lots of hard work, but she’s fine with that and confident she’s got what it takes. Confidence is a major factor, as is having a supportive family by her side, she said.

“It is a truly competitive field, but honestly I think I am very committed … and focused on what I want to do,” Gonzalez said. “I know it’s going to be a challenge and there are going to be obstacles trying to reach that dream, but I am ready for it and I’m excited to see what happens in my future.”