Grace Sorensen (that’s one o followed by two e’s, please and thank you) was awarded two scholarships at the International Thespian Festival in 2021. Planning for college can be a daunting task. It takes hard work and ambition. Preparing financially can be just as daunting. Grace shares with us her approach and efforts that she believes led to her winning two much-needed scholarships. (You can check out our 2021 College Guide for other tips and links to colleges looking for students just like you!)

Grace, now a Thespian alumna, hails from Redmond Proficiency Academy in Oregon, Thespian Troupe 7715. She’s currently studying at the University of Oklahoma where she’s pursuing a B.F.A. in Acting at the Helmerich School of Drama. Grace is realizing her theatrical dreams thanks to her own talent and tenacity combined with the financial support of the two scholarships she won: the Grace Kelly Scholarship and the Amy Bennett Musical Theatre Scholarship.

Gratitude for the help she’s earned comes quickly to Grace’s lips: “To those who are current, past, and future donors supporting students/artists like me: thank you for everything you’ve given us, me, and future creators. These scholarships have undoubtedly changed my life. Because of you, I’m auditioning for my first plays at university. I’m beginning my journey into the academic and professional world.”

Read more about Grace’s journey from Troupe 7715 to the University of Oklahoma in this feature Q&A.

three young women dancing in bright red and bright blue dresses. they are singing

Grace Sorensen, middle, singing in a production of “Big Fish.” Photo courtesy of Grace Sorensen.

Please tell us about your approach to winning (TWO!) scholarships.

Over the course of almost a year-and-a-half, I’ve applied for numerous scholarships on local, academic, merit-based, and performance-based levels. I’m low-income and a first-generation college student, so I knew that I needed to figure out my finances early.

It began when I applied to Northwestern University’s summer intensive, and I needed to pay for that. I just began searching — Googling “scholarship for actors,” “low-income scholarship” or “performance scholarship.” Anything I could find that related to me and my higher-educational goals. I emailed my academic advisor at school and my director, Kate Torcom, who helped me find nearly all my local scholarships. As well, I’ve been very lucky to have been involved in the International Thespian Society on a regional, state, and national level. I saw friends older than me win scholarships through International Thespian Festival and our state festival. When it came time for competition and festivals, I just made sure to apply.

That is the first step — apply. Show up, be kind, and be yourself. I gave my theatrical testimony plenty of times last year. I was honest, and every time I told it, there was somebody who connected to or valued my story. I think that’s how I got so lucky and won.

 

Please describe what winning scholarships means to you.

Winning these scholarships and the reputation associated with them is incredible. I never pictured myself going to university for the subject I love (if even going to university at all, given my financial situation). Long story short, I couldn’t access FAFSA. So, this year I’m entirely on my own, using scholarships to pay for my education. For what it’s worth, I don’t have any training outside of four years of high school classes because my family couldn’t afford it.

By the end of my senior year, I was working full-time in fast food amidst a pandemic, working on graduation, theatre, and family stuff. I needed to be able to pay to move to college and my needs at home while I was still there. I was Zoom-ing into my interviews and auditions for college and scholarships on my cracked iPhone 7 and a friend’s laptop. I had to get fee waivers for almost all my auditions. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it into the pool for scholarships given who I was up against. They are very gifted, talented, and sweet people, like my friend Natalie Lawton who was by my side for all of this (with her own success).

Having people value my skills enough and who I am as a person that they’re willing to help pay for my education, despite my lack of training and even my unconventional identity, means everything to me. It made me cry happy tears. It made me believe that maybe I do belong in this field. And it helped me know that I can make anything I believe possible happen.

What advice do you have for current Thespians who hope to win scholarships?

If I could give any advice to Thespians hoping to win scholarships for theatre, I would say, apply everywhere you can. Work hard, be kind and sincere, wish the best for each other, and know that your differences are what make you valuable. It makes the experience 10,000 times more fun and gets you a lot further because you make connections.

I truly believe my honesty, tenacity, and sincerity going into auditions and interviews are what created my success. My family and life circumstances have taught me that talent only means so much if you don’t work hard for what you want. Doing what you love with all the passion you have inside means more in life than any praise or money. For this, I’m very lucky. Take that with you if you’re going on the insane and fun journey that is pursuing higher education in the arts. And I think if I had to do this again, I would just take more time to soak up each moment. It flies by quickly.

What would you like to say we haven’t asked about?

Regarding my experience as a Thespian alumna and certified high school theatre kid, I want to say thank you to my long-time director and friend Kate Torcom, the Oregon Thespians and all of those working in the Educational Theatre Association for giving me a high school experience and readiness I never would have imagined without them. They are seriously doing incredible work.

For the time being, I’ll be grinding away, getting my BFA here at OU, and scratching to get into the professional world. Through my high school, I have also been a huge advocate for educational theatre and Theatre in Our Schools for low-income students like me to have opportunities to work and explore our passions affordably. I don’t intend on ever stopping that. 

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer who composes original content for brands, organizations, and publications. As a storyteller, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at nataliecwrites.com.

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