Tony nominee Santino Fontana, who you may recognize from playing Greg on the TV show CW's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," and whose voice was immortalized as Prince Hans in the 2013 Disney animated film "Frozen." Yes, that mega hit, remembers well 18 years ago when he was accepted to YoungArts for its theater program. He says that experience, by far, changed the path of his career forever.
He returns this week as a mentor for National YoungArts Week in Miami. The National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) was established in 1981 by Lin and Ted Arison to identify and nurture the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts, and assist them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development.
YoungArts’ signature program is an application-based award for emerging artists ages 15 to 18 or in grades 10 to 12 from across the United States. Selected through a blind adjudication process, YoungArts Winners receive valuable support, including financial awards of up to $10,000, professional development and educational experiences working with renowned mentors—such as Fontana. There are other big names that have contributed their time and talent including, in the past years, Debbie Allen, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rebecca Walker, Plácido Domingo, Frank Gehry, Jeff Koons, Wynton Marsalis, Salman Rushdie and Carrie Mae Weems—and performance and exhibition opportunities at some of the nation’s leading cultural institutions, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, D.C.), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), The Museum of Modern Art (New York) and New World Center (Miami). Additionally, YoungArts Winners are eligible for nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify academic and artistic excellence.
"I met people that were influential in my life and that changed the direction of it. That experience gave me confidence, and connected me to a network of people to talk to, to engage with, and to help me to achieve my dreams."
Fontana grew up in a small town in eastern Washington state. "This was a place where no one made their living in the arts. I didn't see people wanting to do this as a career," says Fontana. But when he was accepted to YoungArts, his world opened up, he says.
"My judges that year with Anthony Rapp (who originated the role of Mark Cohen in 'Rent'), Tony award winning actress Kimberly Scott, and actor Ken Washington. And Ken became a mentor to me."
One of the memories that Fontana keeps with him is when Washington gave him advice in a sort of tough love way.
"We had to pick three pieces to perform, and one was a song, and the third was kind of a wild card. So most people did a song, but I chose a classic Chekhov monologue." He remembers Washington coming up to him while the group was on a bus traveling to one of the other YoungArts' concerts. "He said, 'Why did you choose that monologue?' And then he asked me what I was going to study in college, and I told him I was thinking of going to music school. He turned to me and said, 'I think that would be a mistake.' Then he left, and I thought: 'Who does he think he is.' " Fontana later learned that Washington meant he should pursue a career as an actor. "You're an actor first, he later told me. 'That's who you are,' he said. It really changed my career path, and my life forever. And, that was at YoungArts."
YoungArts alumni who have gone on to become leading professionals in their fields include actresses Viola Davis, Anna Gunn, Zuzanna Szadkowski and Kerry Washington; Broadway stars Raúl Esparza, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells and Tony Yazbeck; recording artists Josh Groban, Judith Hill and Chris Young; Metropolitan Opera star Eric Owens; musicians Terence Blanchard, Gerald Clayton, Jennifer Koh and Elizabeth Roe; choreographers Camille A. Brown and Desmond Richardson; visual artists Daniel Arsham and Hernan Bas; internationally acclaimed multimedia artist Doug Aitken; New York Times bestselling author Sam Lipsyte; and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Doug Blush.
With numerous public performances, one of the opportunities of YoungArts are for South Florida audiences to see programs that are open all week to the public.
Throughout National YoungArts Week, audiences can experience the work of the next generation of artists through performances in voice, jazz, theater, dance and classical music, as well as film screenings at New World Center, writers’ readings in the YoungArts Jewel Box, and a visual arts, photography and design exhibition in the YoungArts Gallery.
"You could stumble into a theater or an arts studio, or an art gallery, or a concert, and hear or see some of the most talented people in the U.S. at the age of 17 or 18. You may see someone who'll be the next Broadway star, or next great artist, and who could potentially be leading their field in the next 10 years. And, just think, you're seeing them at the beginning," said Fontana.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.youngarts.org/yaw.
Live Performance Schedule Open to The Public:
New World Center (Miami Beach):
Monday, January 8, 8 p.m.
Classical, Jazz & Pop Voice Performance
Tuesday, January 9, 8 p.m.
Jazz & Theater Performance
Wednesday, January 10, 8 p.m.
Dance Performance & Film Screenings
Thursday, January 11, 8:30 p.m. Classical Music Concert
On the YoungArts campus:
Friday, January 12, 6 p.m. YoungArts Week 2018 Writers' Reading and Design Showcase
YoungArts Week 2018 Visual Arts, Photography and Design Exhibition Opening
On Saturday, Jan. 13, the National YoungArts Foundation will honor Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winning playwright, at the ball presented by luxury brand Max Mara.
For tickets and information about performances, go to http://www.youngarts.org