Washburn High theater director receives third Tony Award honorable mention

For the last 10 years, students at Washburn High School in Minneapolis have put on musicals. Now, the woman behind those productions is taking center stage.

“That is huge honor not only for me, but for those students, parents and community of Washburn who always nominate me every year,” said Nancy Lee, the artistic director of Washburn’s performing art program. 

For the third year in a row, Lee received an honorable mention for the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University's Excellence in Theatre Education Award. She's one of 24 teachers across the country to get the honor, out of more than a thousand who were nominated.

“Ten years ago when I came to Washburn, there was nothing and now it’s just bursting with talent and great shows,” said Lee.

In fact, the school hadn't done a musical in 15 years and the choir program only had 15 students in it when Lee started teaching at Washburn in 2008. Now, the performing arts program has a pool of more than 200 students and the school performs two musicals every year.

“I like to say, ‘We love them into it,’” said Lee. “Once they get the taste of the stage, they realize people like what we are doing everyone wants to be on board.”

Lee says 28 of her former students have gone on to pursue careers in the performing arts after high school and she hopes to inspire future performers for years to come.

“I still love what I do,” said Lee. “I love the Washburn community. I love where I am, so I will keep doing it.”

Lee also works with the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which recently named her their Spotlight Education Theatre Teacher of the Year.