It should come as no surprise that Western Reserve Academy's Simon Ong feels the gravitational pull of the Knight Fine Arts Center stage.
After all, his mother, Donalee, is WRA's drama teacher and director of numerous school plays. His father, History Department Chair Diccon '81, is also a former actor. Simon, who will be a senior in the fall, has been a part of the theater world at WRA since the second grade, when he attended rehearsals for Into the Woods each day with his mother.
But to ascribe his acting acumen to simple genetics would be to shortchange the work of a dedicated performer, one who is the first to arrive to practice, the first to memorize his lines and the first to encourage his classmates during a performance.
It is because of that dedication to his craft and his fellow performers that Ong, of Hudson, is the recipient of the Corinne Van Dame Davis Award for the 2014-15 academic year. He received the award, presented to a student who has demonstrated a strong commitment and dedication to the drama and/or public speaking programs at WRA, during the spring Academic Awards Ceremony. His name will be engraved on a plaque that hangs outside the theater in KFAC.
"I like to stay humble, but it is truly nice to be recognized for something that so often goes unnoticed in the face of academics and athletics," Ong said of the award. "Drama dominates a lot more time every night than people often realize, and I am glad I'm able to be recognized for that work, particularly when there were so many other deserving and talented candidates."
Ong has appeared in six stage productions at WRA - Our Town, Les Misérables, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Twelfth Night, CHESS and Noises Off - along with a featured role in the annual Madrigal Feaste for two years. He also represented WRA this spring in the Branch Competition of the English-Speaking Union's National Shakespeare Competition. Ong is also a member of the Academy Choir.
The different roles have allowed Ong to show his versatility on stage, and while it is hard to pick one as his favorite, after some consideration Ong settled on the character of Feste from Twelfth Night.
"My sophomore year certainly stands out, having portrayed both Monsieur Thénardier in Les Misérables and the court jester, Feste, in Twelfth Night. As difficult as it is, as I love all of the characters I play, I would have to choose Feste," Ong said. "Contrary to popular belief, that decision isn't made because I have the most in common with him. It's actually because I'm nothing like him and yet he's everything I want to be. Feste is funny, cunning, witty and generally just a good time. He's a cheerful pessimist, fully acknowledging the world and its flaws, but never letting them get him down. He also has an insatiable need to get tangled up in other people's lives."
Ong, who is studying for four weeks this summer at the Tisch School of the Arts, is looking forward to continuing to build on his work and his friendships during his senior year.
"Having been in two performances each year at WRA, each of these pairs has taken on a sort of theme in my mind," he said. "Freshman year was a year of firsts. Picasso at the Lapin Agile was both my first high school play and my first time with a small cast. I learned what that dynamic was like, and then immediately transitioned into Our Town, which was a much different experience as it had one of the larger casts I've worked with. Sophomore year was something of a break out year for me. It was that year, with large roles in Les Misérables and Twelfth Night, when I realized theater was a part of my identity at WRA and that there was little else I enjoyed more. This year, with CHESS and Noises Off, I feel I've again returned to the social aspect of theater at WRA, having dedicated time to forming some of the strongest relationships I will ever have with fellow cast members. Who knows where next year will go? I think I will continue to maintain the friendships I have within theater here, though we say goodbye to an incredible group of seniors. Aside from that, I can hope for nothing more than more of the same."
The Corinne Van Dame Davis Award was established in 2007 by family, former students and friends to celebrate Mrs. Davis' life and devotion to the school she loved. The inimitable "Corky" Davis taught at WRA from 1972 to 1994, during which time she staged more than 100 plays and musicals. Known for her legendary high standards and her exhausting work ethic, she saw herself first and foremost as a teacher.