Senior year sets stage for local student’s career
SALISBURY — A local high schooler is one of just 25 students in the nation to be accepted into a prestigious drama program in North Carolina.
Keaton Brower, of Kannapolis, will spend his days behind a desk and his evenings under the lights at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He moved to the campus on Aug. 16, and classes began last week.
“I’m really excited,” Brower said just before the move. “I knew I wanted to audition since before I was even in high school, but it felt like a long way away. The fact that it’s finally here is really exciting.”
Brower lived in Greensboro until he was 14. While there, he and his parents heard about the prestigious and exclusive UNC School of the Arts, which is not far away in Winston-Salem. Brower decided early on that this was where he wanted to be.
As a junior at Carson High School, he auditioned for the one-year high school program at the School of the Arts.
To his “elation and relief,” he got in.
Brower said he knows several bright, talented students who weren’t accepted into the programs and colleges they wanted, so he feels blessed to have this opportunity.
“It makes me want to work as hard as I can for next year and the rest of my life so I can be the best I can at what I do,” he said. “I really have the mentality that if I do my best, it’ll work out, and I’ll find the right place for me. I just have to keep applying myself.”
He said a lot of the program involves preparing to apply to college, which works differently for theater students. In addition to submitting the normal application, they often have to audition with a monologue or even a song.
“The program is generally for people who are very serious about the art form and profession,” Brower said. “We’re going to be working on getting ready for colleges that we’ve got our eyes on.”
Brower hopes to attend the UNC School of the Arts itself in college. He’s also looking at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and New York University.
During the School of the Arts high school program, 25 drama students spend much of the day taking high school classes with teachers who have master’s degrees in their fields. In the afternoon and evening, they attend rehearsals and acting courses led by college professors.
The students also will be taking a trip to Chicago in February for unified auditions, where they can meet with representatives from colleges across the country.
“We’ll be going as a class, and we’ll have each other for support, so it should be a really good time,” Brower said. “I’ve never been to Chicago before. I’m excited about visiting the city.”
Brower said he was really looking forward to meeting other students from around the state and even the country. He said he thinks there are 16 from North Carolina this year and nine from out of state.
Tuition, room and board are free for in-state students.
“I’m really thankful that I’ll be able to enjoy that privilege,” Brower said. “To have the opportunity to go free of charge for my senior year of high school and live on campus is a blessing.”
The school assigned students work over the summer, including finding and learning new monologues other than what they used to audition. He said that can be harder than it sounds.
“You can’t just take a monologue written for a 50-year-old and do it yourself at 17 or 18,” Brower said. “My goal is to find stuff for characters no older than 25. Past that, it gets kind of tough.”
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Neal Brower, Keaton’s father, said he and his wife, Toni, were “very excited” when they found out their son had been accepted to the competitive School of the Arts program.
“It’s a great program and a wonderful opportunity,” Neal Brower said. “He is so passionate about theater — he has been since he was in the first grade. We knew this was what he wanted, it would be a great opportunity for him and it would offer him training he wouldn’t be able to get in any other place.”
He said he isn’t concerned about his son living on a college campus one year early. He said Keaton will be in a safe environment and is only a short driving distance away if they want to visit.
Neal Brower said he and his wife support their son’s dream of acting wholeheartedly.
“That’s what he should do. That’s his passion and his love,” he said. “We’re really supportive of him, and we want to give him the opportunity to do as much as he can with it.”
Brower’s family moved from Greensboro to Kannapolis in 2010. He said he transferred into the Rowan-Salisbury School System so he could attend Carson High School, which he knew had a strong theater program led by Alex Reynolds.
“It’s been an absolute joy being involved in the theater department there,” he said. “Mr. Reynolds and my classmates were really supportive of what I wanted to do.”
Brower soon got involved with Piedmont Players Theatre in Salisbury, where he played parts in “A Comedy of Errors,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “13.”
“The director there is really, really supportive of me,” Brower said. “He, as well as my teacher at Carson, wrote my recommendations for the UNC School of the Arts. That really meant a lot to me.”
Reynolds said Brower’s passion for theater is unrivaled at Carson. Acting isn’t a hobby or a talent show for Brower, his teacher said — it’s his dream, and he does whatever it takes to improve and achieve it.
“One of the coolest things about having him as a kid onstage is that it didn’t matter if he was Who No. 1 in ‘Seussical’ or Professor Henry Higgins, the lead character in ‘Pygmalion,’ ” Reynolds said. “To him, every show was magic because he got to walk out onstage.”
Brower’s high school roles included Soren Oakenshield from “The Hobbit” and Cogsworth from “Beauty and the Beast.”
For Reynolds and many of his students, he said, theater is something they love and appreciate but don’t pursue as a career. This experience will be different for Keaton.
“I’m sorry he’s not here for senior year, but I’m thrilled for him that he got in,” Reynolds said. “I’m thrilled he gets to go and be with people who love it genuinely as much as he does and want to do it for a living. ... I couldn’t be any prouder of any kid.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.