Each year, the ariZoni theater awards organization hands out scholarships for students studying drama and musical theater. At Monday’s ceremony, four Arizona State University theater students received “a little financial help” from the theater community.

Receiving $1,500 each to help pay for their studies are Kayte Zhang and Evan Tyler Wilson. Receiving $1,000 each are Michelle Chin and Tregoney Shepherd. Although the latter two are separated in age by “a decade or two,” they share in common one of the Valley’s foremost voice teachers: Marcus Denton.

Says Chin: “My first production with Marc was “The Secret Garden” at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. I’ve learned so much from him. Not just vocally, but also musically. When I can I’ll be in Mark’s orchestras playing drums or percussion.”

Upon graduating next spring, Chin plans on taking a break from studies so she can pursue performing with “all the local theaters,” such as Arizona Broadway Theatre, where she’s now starring in “Steel Magnolias.”

Chin would do well to follow in Shepherd’s career path: She caught the acting bug as a child from veteran East Valley director Jay Dean Jones, founder of the legendary Mesa Musical Theatre. The bug bit Shepherd hard, taking her all the way to Broadway where she starred in “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Shepherd returned “home” to pursue her doctorate in theater arts at ASU. Frankly, she was surprised to receive a scholarship, being such a “mature performer.” But she’ll put the money to good use with the ever-escalating costs of post-graduate studies.

“I owe so much to Jay Dean and Marcus. Jay Dean really helped to harness my energy so I wouldn’t just explode on stage. And Marcus, well ... he’s always been so generous in allowing me to do things the way I wanted to do, guiding me all the way. I’m still learning from him.”

Shepherd says she’s not ready to “quit the boards” (theater lingo for “retire from the stage”) but she wanted to get her doctorate so she can do it all: act, direct and teach.

“Coming back to town, I’m amazed at the huge support system for the younger generation of kids interested in theater. I want to be a part of that. That’s why I’ve gone back to school.”

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