This article first published at Harker News Online on May 22, 2019

By William Cracraft

Two of Harker’s performing arts alumni were named inaugural awardees of Harker’s Life in the Arts awards on Friday at the annual Senior Showcase, the celebration of those graduating with a Conservatory certificate along with their diploma. Gabrielle DeMers ’03 and D.J. Blickenstaff ’09 were honored for their commitment to their careers as performers as a group of family, friends, former teachers and administrators looked on.

DeMers was in the second high school graduating class at Harker and was part of the effort to create the Harker Conservatory. She had major roles in “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2001 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2002, and she remains the only Conservatory graduate to major in both vocal music and theater.

DeMers holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and a Master of Music in opera performance from the University of Maryland, College Park. As a member of the Maryland Opera Studio, she sang the title role of Sandrina in Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera” and Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Read her full biography here.  Watch her acceptance of the award here.

She had a few words of advice for those interested in a career in the arts. “I was flashing back to my Senior Showcase and if I could give myself advice at that age, the first thing would be to dream big,” said DeMers, “because it has to start with a  vision, you have to envision what you want to do. The road to it may be full of twists and turns, and take you in an unexpected direction, but you have to envision it first.

“The second thing I would have told myself is, growth comes through failure. You will receive a lot of rejection and you will make some mistakes, but the most growth I ever experienced as an artist is by trying things that were huge, coming up a little short, then getting into the practice room and figuring out how to get better next time,” she said.

Blickenstaff shone in Harker productions of “Urinetown: The Musical” (Lockstock) in 2007, “Annie Get Your Gun” (Frank Butler) in 2008 and “The Music Man” (Harold Hill) in 2009. After graduating from Harker with a certificate from the Conservatory along with his diploma, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from  the University of Southern California and has appeared in a number of shows, including a reoccurring role in Netflix’ “Dear White People.” Read his full biography here. Watch him accepting the award here.

His advice for those interested in a career in the arts? “Trust yourself,” Blickenstaff said, “not just believe in yourself, but trust yourself and go out there and pursue it.”

And he added a few kind words for those who helped launch him. “Harker really truly is one of the driving forces behind me pursuing a life in the arts,” Blickenstaff said. “I would be nowhere in the arts without Harker and the amazing Harker family and the Harker faculty.”

Life in the Arts awardees are those alumni who have the character, talent, drive and determination to pursue their passion as their livelihood. Inductees come from the stage, screen, classroom, backstage and rehearsal halls. They are passionate about their art and create at the highest level within their domain.

“Life in the Arts inductees are not necessarily ‘stars’ in the performing arts like we think of on stage or screen,” said Lang-Ree. “We may come to recognize their names, and we may never see their names in lights, but they are living out their own dreams and that is what we honor.”

A permanent location to display annual winners is currently in progress and will be unveiled at next year’s presentation.


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