May 11, 2023
Three Culver Academies juniors have been accepted into Northwestern University’s prestigious National High School Institute, whose students are affectionately known as “Cherubs.”
Terell Cooley ’24 (Chicago), Joyney Lu ’24 (Los Angeles), and Sidney Underwood ’24 (Gahanna, Ohio) were selected for the highly competitive NHSI Theatre Arts Division, a five-week summer program comprising classes and performances scheduled to occur on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from June 25 to July 29.
“It's the premier institute for theater students for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which being they draw from all over the planet. The students represent a measure of diversity that is just unparalleled. To have three students from the same high school in the program is extremely rare,” said Adam Joyce, Culver’s director of theater and former faculty member and administrative director of the National High School Institute.
Northwestern bills it as an intense pre-college educational program that includes classes and performances with a goal “to bring together gifted young people and superior teachers in an atmosphere of affection, knowledge, and trust.” The program, started in 1931, offers students opportunities in theatre arts, film and video, debate, and playwriting. Cooley and Lu will take part in the Film and Video Division while Underwood will take part in the Theatre Arts Division.
“They eat, sleep, breathe, live the theater, film conservatory experience,” Joyce said.
Cooley is a Huffington Scholar, which is awarded to students with demonstrated excellence in academics, citizenship, and character with a commitment to and talent in theater and demonstrate significant promise to contribute to overall life at Culver Academies, both in and out of the classroom.
Joyce describes Cooley, a captain in the theater program, as an “incredible leader.”
“I've had Terell in several classes and directed him in many plays and he's just an incredible young artist who excels both in film and in theater,” Joyce said.
Cooley, who will be an honors theater acting student next year, said he plans to study film in college so he’s excited to get a head start at Northwestern’s summer program.
“For me it’s all about just the ability to produce something that people love and brings happiness and joy to them,” he said. “Nothing is better than the energy you feel when you’re in front of an audience. When you hear them laugh or clap, you feel that connection with them.”
He said he learned about the challenges of filmmaking when working this winter on a 12-minute film called “The Last Dance,” which he directed, co-wrote and acted in. It took four months to complete.
“I have an appreciation for what it takes to wake up every day, go to a set, listen to about 10 different people tell you what to do, who to be at this certain time and how to do it. The actual process to make a piece of video is something I’m very interested in.”
Cooley said he’s looking forward to learning from people with professional experience while at Northwestern.
“I hope to apply all the knowledge and skills I learn there back here at Culver and use it to begin my film path,” Cooley said.
Cooley also will be taking filmmaking classes as part of the program.
“I believe you can’t really get in front of the camera until you know what’s going on behind the camera,” Cooley said.
Joyce describes Lu as a talented actor and singer who has been involved in several plays at Culver.
“Her resume is incredible. She’s a phenomenal speech participant, she’s a manager for the volleyball team. She’s in the choir. She’s going to be an honors vocal performance student,” Joyce said. “She’s really talented. And you will be hard-pressed to find somebody with a harder work ethic.”
Lu will be in the Film and Video Division at Northwestern with a concentration in on-camera acting.
“I think it’s fun to be able to portray a different character because we all have our different personalities. When you’re playing a role, you might have to embody somebody completely different from you. It’s fun to experience their lives. I’m a curious person so I want to learn about different perspectives, different things,” she said. “I like it when you can feel an actor’s emotions and you’re able to feel with them. I find that fascinating. You can be empathetic and sympathetic toward a character who doesn’t exist in real life.”
Lu said she got interested in acting in seventh grade when she appeared in “Mulan Jr.” She didn’t get involved in theater at Culver until her sophomore year when she appeared in “War of the Worlds.” She was in “She Kills Monsters” this past fall and had a role in Cooley’s film, her first film production.
She is looking forward to playing Vice Principal Panch in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy that includes some improvisation.
“I’m hoping it will help me improve my improv skills and help me not only in the acting realm but in the real world in conversing with people or if there are situations I have to adapt to quickly,” she said.
Lu also is on the speech team.
“I think it’s fun to use my voice. I love to sing. I love to speak. So a lot of activities I do involve using my voice,” she said. “I like to talk to people. I like to interact with people.”
Underwood is a Duchossois Scholar, which is awarded to students who show responsible citizenship and community service, communication skills, capacity for original thought, mental and physical vitality and a high level of academic aptitude and enthusiasm for learning. She also is a captain in the theater program.
Underwood fell in love with theater growing up. Her mother would take her every year to see “Wicked,” which still is her favorite play.
Underwood said she loves the theater because of the escapism.
“I love the idea of people getting to be someone else, even if it’s just for a night,” she said. “It’s a spiritual experience in a way that not a lot of other people can understand.”
Underwood said Joyce suggested she apply because it would give her a chance to get a better idea of what theater stage management entails. She said she was “amazed” when she was accepted.
Joyce said Underwood is an all-around talent.
“Sidney is just incredible. Sidney has acted on the stage and excelled in leading roles. And she also has behind the scenes participated in crew and she’s also assistant stage managing the production right now,” Joyce said.
Underwood said she prefers working behind the scenes rather than acting.
“I much prefer the backstage inner workings because without the backstage people nothing happens,” she said. “I find it much more fun being on the sidelines and observing everything. I have less interest in being the center of attention. I’d much rather be the one helping other people be the center of attention.”
Underwood, who will be an honors theater student in the fall, said she has a relative who is a stage manager on Broadway who told her that stage management is the most in-demand job in theater.
Underwood said she wants to learn about all the backstage jobs because she likes having diverse skills.
“Stage management is one of the most versatile and most needed jobs in the theater, so I should have a job anywhere as long as I know how to do it,” Underwood said. “I know how to do everything at least a little bit so I can do everything a little bit. I’d like to keep my options open as long as I can.”
She hopes the program will help her give a better idea of what type of career she will pursue and should help her expand her repertoire.
“Because I’ll actually be running an entire show. That’s an experience I’ve never had before,” she said. “Especially since in next year for honors in theater I’ll be helping to run at least one of the shows, so it will be experience to see if I can actually handle it.”
Despite saying she enjoys being behind the scenes, Underwood said the most fun she’s had in theater at Culver was playing Lindy in the play “Air Guitar High.”
“It was a really fun experience,” she said.
Joyce said the program also is a recruitment tool for Northwestern because many of the students who take part apply to the university, and students in the program have a higher acceptance rate.
“It increases their chances of being accepted into the Northwestern program. It’s a significant advantage. They’ll have a better understanding of what the campus is. They’ll have a better understanding of what the facilities are like,” Joyce said. “It’s a way for students to separate themselves.”
Joyce said having the three students involved in the program should help make the entire Culver theater program stronger.
“It’s a very rigorous experience,” he said. “They’re going to be excellent ambassadors for Culver. I hope they have an amazing experience and they also bring what they learn back here and share it with the students in our theatre space so we can all as a collective ensemble experience everything the National High School Institute has to offer.”