2018 – Jessica Gómes-Ng and Noah Kieserman

The winners of this year's award“When I was in high school, I did a community theatre production of Rent, and my teacher said, “If you like this, you should pursue it,” said Noah Kieserman. “I didn’t know what else I would do, and that’s generally the actor mentality: ‘If you can do anything else, do that.’ I wanted to do this.”

That decision has treated Kieserman well – he is one of this year’s two recipients of the 2018 Alan Eisenberg Award, along with fellow recent University of Michigan graduate Jessica Gómes-Ng.

The scholarship was established in 2007 in recognition of Alan Eisenberg’s 25 years of service to Equity as its executive director. It consists of a $5,000 award, presented annually to a graduating senior from the university’s Musical Theatre Department to recognize outstanding talent and career potential. In this case, two worthy graduates were honored with the award.

Both recipients’ showcase selections were among the lesser-known selections chosen for the showcase – Gómes-Ng sang Joe Iconis’ “Joey Is a Punk Rocker” from The Black Suits, while Kieserman selected “Passing Tracy” from Fugitive Songs – but each performer certainly owned them. And in a move that is perhaps indicative of their dedication to craft, both performers were among the last to learn they had been named this year’s co-winners of the Eisenberg Award, since the email announcement was sent during a rehearsal and neither had checked their phones.

“Other people were congratulating us and we were like, ‘why?’” Gómes-Ng said. The award should help with her upcoming move from Michigan to New York City next month, though she can already check off life as a resident of many sites across the globe. “I was born in New Zealand and I went to middle school in Belgium and high school in Singapore." Did Ann Arbor, MI, get boring? “It got cold!” she said, adding, “I feel like I’m going to miss it a lot – but I am ready to move to the city.”

Gómes-Ng caught the performing bug as a child when she saw an Australian touring production of Wicked. "I thought, 'This is amazing! This is magical!' I really fell in love with it and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else," she said. "And I was very lucky to get into the University of Michigan because I also wanted academics to be a focus and our school was amazing for that."

Kieserman experienced theatre life starting at a very young age. The Olney, Maryland native’s mother was a props person in community theatre where his older brother (who now raps professionally) would perform. “I would sleep on the props table, or just kind of absorb anything,” Kieserman said.

But despite many community theatre credits of his own, it wasn’t until that seminal Rent production that he pictured himself as a professional performer. His director conducted a character exercise in which “he told all of us to leave the room and come back to open letters that would tell us we are either HIV-positive or HIV-negative,” said Kieserman, who also plans to relocate to New York City in pursuit of a musical theatre career after spending the summer working in Ann Arbor. “It was really interesting – he was encouraging us to go into the character in a way I had never done before, and I thought I want to do that. I want to merge those two people – myself and the character – and that’s how it all got started.”