After a long and anxious wait during a pandemic, a local theatre student got the news that shook her world: a free education ride to pursue her acting dreams in the United States.
Puslinch native Jeri Leader, 17, was awarded a four-year full-tuition scholarship by Millikin University in partnership with Broadway Dreams Foundation, a performing arts education nonprofit organization where she will receive skills, training, and mentorship opportunities from distinguished talents in the entertainment industry.
“I’m very excited. It took a few days to kind of sink in. I was like I don’t know if I’m dreaming or not,” said Leader adding that the move will present her with opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise. After years of hard work, she said the news of the scholarship allowed her to breathe.
“Without the scholarship. I wouldn’t be able to go to school in the states.”
The scholarship is awarded to talented individuals who may not have have the means to continue their education at a highly competitive national theatre community.
“Getting that scholarship and having that opportunity is amazing,” said Leader.
She said despite the pandemic influencing the way theatre operates, she is hopeful of what this education means for her future.
“I’m really excited even if it means having classes seven feet apart from my peers and wearing masks. It’s a small price to pay,” said Leader.
Leader’s first play was Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka at the Royal City Musical Productions where she played an Oompa Loompa in 2010 at the age of seven while she attended Aberfoyle Public School.
“I was super nervous. There were so many times throughout the process where I just wanted to quit. I just wanted to leave,” said Leader.
“But as soon as we did the show, as soon as we got on stage, I caught the bug as they say. From that applause and energy I pretty much knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
From then on she has performed in numerous plays such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anne & Gilbert, Legally Blonde and Newsies. She also worked with various professional houses such as Toronto’s Lower Ossington Theatre, The Grand Theatre in London and Drayton Entertainment among more.
In 2016, Leader travelled to Hollywood to receive a Young Entertainer Award for her performance for the web series called The Spell Tutor. She has also been nominated for a Young Entertainer Award for her performance as Anne Shirley in Bravo Academy’s production of Anne & Gilbert.
Leader said she would not be where she is without the high quality of education she received in her home country along with the support of her parents every step of the way.
“I’m so grateful to Broadway Dreams and to Millikin as well as anywhere that I’ve trained or worked over the past ten years. Its a really big achievement,” said Leader.
Leader said the love of art runs in her family with her father, Robert, a musician of local reknown with the band The Kramdens and owner of Guelph JamSchool. She said the love and support of her parents have been instrumental to her success and it is something that she will eternally be grateful for.
“I think my parents are the most supportive people on the planet,” said Leader adding that her parents put equal if not more work than she did to help her achieve her dreams.
“I was seven years old. I was still a child. I was like this is what I want to do And they looked at me, they looked at my seven-year-old self and they were like ‘Okay. Then we will do it right.’”
Leader’s father, Robert said he and his wife Donna were overjoyed, excited and proud of their daughter.
“Jeri and I have an ongoing thing where I hold my pinky to the corner of my eye to say ‘It's beautiful’ to wipe away a tear. When she performs she always makes me tear up,” said Rob.