LAKEWOOD RANCH — As Lakewood Ranch High School senior Dane LaFemina talks about musical theater, his passion is palpable, almost contagious. His energy seems to feed those around him, and his dedication is apparent. How else could anyone, at age 17, claim all of the accomplishments he has to his name?
LaFemina, already a household name to anyone familiar with Lakewood’s decorated drama department, will take his passion for the performing arts out of state next fall at the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
And that’s not all. In addition to earning a spot at one of the most celebrated theater programs in the country, LaFemina also is the recipient of the $2,500 American Heritage Scholarship, awarded to only 14 students across the country.
LaFemina competed against about 250 other students for the scholarship. The competition was intense; each student had only 90 seconds in which to present an excerpt of a song and an excerpt of a monologue to the judges.
The judges then selected 14 of the scholarship competition’s competitors to receive scholarships, ranging from $750 to $2,500. Those who were to receive money were told so, but were not alerted as to the level of their scholarship until the ceremony.
Nervously waiting as the other 13 names were called, LaFemina began to think they had forgotten about him.
“I was sitting backstage thinking, ‘I knew this was too good to be true,’” he said.
However, he had no reason to fret. LaFemina was called last because he was the only student awarded the highest honor of the American Heritage Scholarship of $2,500.
“I was freaking out,” he said. “I sprinted onstage. There was nothing I could do but smile.”
What meant the most to LaFemina was that his entire troop, along with his teacher, Roxane Caravan, and his vocal coach, Alan Corey, was there supporting him.
“It was so humbling,” he said. “Even though the honor is in my name, I couldn’t have gotten here without everyone else.”
LaFemina discovered acting at age 5 when his parents enrolled him in classes.
“When I was little, I never shut up,” he said. “I always like to be the center of attention. … I knew it (acting) was right for me because a lot of people don’t like getting up on stage, but I do best when I’m in front of people. When I’m on my own, I don’t work as well.”
LaFemina competes with Troop 6020 for Lakewood Ranch. At the District 6 competition, he earned straight “superiors,” the highest ranking given, which also allowed LaFemina and his troop to advance to states.
Says LaFemina: “You’re always upping the ante when you go to states. Everyone who got there is there for a reason.”
He received an “excellent” rating for his one-act performance and again received a “superior” for his troop’s large group musical rendition of the song “Pandemonium” from the musical “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Throughout his acting career, LaFemina’s parents have remained his biggest fans.
“My parents are the most supportive anyone could get,” he said. “I’m blessed to have them there for me. They’re wonderful people.”
LaFemina described the college auditioning process as “just like states, but almost even better” because the best student actors from across the nation are there. For three days in February, he was in Chicago auditioning.
LaFemina said he is anxious to start coursework at the Cincinnati Conservatory, alma mater of a great many Broadway stars, including the current lead in Broadway’s "Mary Poppins."
For someone who has had so many honors bestowed upon him, it is remarkable that LaFemina remains a grounded individual. He is appreciative of the support he has received from friends, family and mentors and said he is grateful for the education he received at Lakewood.
“I don’t think I’d have gotten into CCM if I hadn’t moved down here,” he said.
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