Take a visit to New York City. Purchase a ticket to a Broadway show. Open up the Playbill.
Chances are, you’ll be met with the name and face of at least one alumnus from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts (CCCEPA) at Pebblebrook High School.
“I joke all of the time (but it’s really not a joke) that I can go into Austell and talk to people about the program, and we’ve been here for 30, 35 years now. But people are still in awe and will say, ‘There’s a performing arts magnet in Cobb?’ But you go to New York and everybody in the business knows of the school and has worked with at least one person who graduated from here,” said CCCEPA Director Frank Timmerman.
Hundreds of CCCEPA graduates have earned scholarships to prestigious performing arts schools, appeared on Broadway, starred in television shows and movies and have been met with countless other successes since the program began in 1985.
The performing arts magnet program, which is located on the Mableton campus of Pebblebrook High School, was the first in Cobb when it opened. At that time, it was just an afternoon program and served around 80 students. Today, the program has approximately 362 students and those in the program take performing arts classes throughout the day. Additionally, the students who have been accepted into the program’s touring troupe ComPAny train for at least 11 hours on the weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
The magnet students are also Pebblebrook students and take regular high school courses, but with the added rigor of the magnet program. Magnet students come from all over the county and some even have bus commutes an hour and a half one way. Obviously, the program takes a great deal of commitment. But many students, including alumnus Jevares Myrick, will tell you that it’s worth it.
Myrick is in his fifth year as the dance captain and swing for Broadway’s mega-hit musical “Book of Mormon” in New York City. Myrick graduated from CCCEPA/Pebblebrook in 2003 and performed on cruise ships and national Broadway tours before being cast in the show which, on July 27, became the 14th longest-running Broadway show in history, surpassing “42nd Street.”
“Honestly, there aren’t any words to describe how much CCCEPA/Pebblebrook High School shaped my life and professional career,” Myrick said. “(Former CCCEPA Director) Earl Reece and Frank Timmerman are the very reason I’m on Broadway today. I can’t imagine that there is another program in the world that provides such a safe space to explore your talent and that offers such world class, dedicated teachers.”
Myrick was attending Smitha Middle School in south Cobb when he auditioned for CCCEPA. At the time, Reece, now retired, was the director and Timmerman was the choral director. Myrick said he had no performing arts training prior to his audition, but was encouraged by his eighth grade science teacher, Linda Trawick; chorus teacher, Mariam Byce; and math teacher, Cissi Kale (formerly Knight) to give it a shot. In addition to his performing accomplishments, Myrick can play a half a dozen instruments and has also written the score to the award-winning musical, “Once Upon A Rhyme,” with fellow CCCEPA graduate Ronve O’Daniel.
“The training at Pebblebrook changed my life,” he said. “I would not be a successful nor professional singer, dancer, actor, composer, producer, or teacher if not for my training at Pebblebrook.”
Between November and March each year, Timmerman travels to each of Cobb County School District’s 24 middle schools to talk to prospective students and audition incoming ninth graders for the program. Timmerman said about a fourth of his students come from outside of the school district, although the students have to live in Cobb at the time of enrollment to qualify. Timmerman said there are several families who move to Cobb from other parts of the country, just so their children can attend CCCEPA.
As of August, Timmerman said CCCEPA graduates have appeared in 65 Broadway shows. Six shows currently on Broadway – “Beetlejuice,” “Book of Mormon,” “Aladdin,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton” – feature CCCEPA graduates.
But the program doesn’t just produce Broadway stars. Many graduates find success in technical theatre. Some have found success in film and television. CCCEPA graduate Colt Prattes made headlines in 2017 for his portrayal of Johnny Castle in the ABC remake of “Dirty Dancing.” Prior to that starring role, Prattes was perhaps best known as pop star Pink’s dance partner in her acclaimed music video for “Try.” Krys Marshall played Julia Freeman on “Supergirl” and has appeared in “This is Us,” “How I met Your Mother” and several other television shows.
One of Timmerman’s favorite success stories is that of Carlos Valdes, who is currently starring as Cisco Ramon on The CW network’s show, “The Flash.” Valedes also performed as Andrej in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of “Once.”
“He came into his audition at Campbell Middle School late because it was not something he was really sure he wanted to do,” Timmerman explained. “His mom had contacted his teacher and said, ‘Make sure Carlos goes to this.’ And it really was life-changing for him. He got into the program, came here and discovered he had perfect pitch. He learned how to play piano and compose music. He was a natural actor and learned how to dance. He received a full scholarship to the University of Michigan. All of those things were set into place because people took this normal middle school student and encouraged him to go to an audition.”
That seems to be a recurring path for CCCEPA students.
As Timmerman put it: “They are normal students with a glimmer of potential, then they come here and learn how to shine.”