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Hard work pays off for SEBHS senior Abby McMillan

September 05, 2018

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Talent comes in many forms: singing, dancing, acting and writing. It comes musically, physically and spiritually. Talent is not limited to a certain media or even to just the arts. It stretches across all people’s lives, all people’s interests. Whether you can play an instrument, recite Shakespeare, create clay models or dislocate your shoulder and then pop it back into place — everyone has something that they are naturals at. Everyone has a talent, but what separates talent from skill? How do you advance from performing in an elementary school play, to performing in front of hundreds of people?

Abbey McMillan, a senior at Southeast Bulloch High School, did just that, and sat down with me to talk about her life as a performer. 

McMillan says she “gravitated towards [music] at a young age,” and first expressed that love by singing at church as a child. As her love for music progressed, her opportunities to perform began to grow. At Brooklet Elementary School, McMillan was cast in the lead role of the play Annie, and with some encouragement from her music teacher, Hilary Ziegler, McMillan began to move on to bigger stages.

“There were times when I had to choose between do you want to do middle school soccer or do you want to do a play, and I was like, ‘I want to do a play.’ ” McMillan said.

She started singing and acting at the Averitt Center for the Arts, and soon found that her time on the stage of Brooklet Elementary School would pay off. In her fifth grade year, Abbey was cast in a familiar role as the star of the Averitt’s production of Annie. Soon, she found her niche among the theater crowd, and has since performed in several major Averitt productions, including Oliver!, The Gift of the Magi, and most recently, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.You can see McMillan in the newest addition to her repertoire, The Addams Family, this month at Emma Kelly Theater.

Yet, her success has not come without obstacles.

McMillan discussed her early high school experiences.


“When I was younger I was so worried about like ‘OK, I want this certain group of people to like me and I want to make sure that I dress like this and I go to all the football games and I look cute in my outfits,’ ” she said.


The urge to fit in often outweighs the draw to something you love, but as she says, “find your people and stick with them.”

As her affinity for theater grew, a new passion began to arise. Abbey stuck with “her people,” and persisted in her pursuit of the arts by starting to train in music. Choral music quickly became McMillan’s largest artistic platform.


McMillan began taking singing lessons at a young and has since had countless hours of instruction that taught her proper singing technique and forced her out of her comfort zone, and she has reaped the benefits of her hard work. Starting as a high school freshman, she was accepted into Southeast Bulloch High School’s nationally recognized advanced chorus, not an easy feat to accomplish. McMillan has thrived in the chorus program, becoming alto section leader her junior year of high school and recently being named the chorus president. At the end of her junior year she was accepted into Georgia’s Governor’s Honor Program for Choral Studies, one of few in the history of Southeast Bulloch High School.

Since joining, the chorus program has continued to be acclaimed nationally, and despite a common joke from surrounding schools, it’s not just “in the water” in Brooklet, Georgia.

“It’s just discipline. I think that really sets (our chorus) apart. And you see it in the band, too. Both of them are really disciplinary and it really shows,” said McMillan.


Brent Whitaker, chorus director at SEBHS, says “It is discipline, focus and (the students’) willingness to work as a team... that are the ‘magic’ behind their success.”


The hard work of the students in SEBHS’ fine arts programs shows. Southeast Bulloch’s art program boasted winning paintings and drawings at last year's Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair fine arts judged show, and most students were competing against artists twice their age. The band program has been a continuous force in the music world for almost 16 years, and the Swarm Marching Band’s unique and skillful shows are known throughout the Southeast. The drama program placed in the state-wide one act competition and sends several actors and actresses to compete in the state literary competitions almost every year — including McMillan. Alumni from these programs have gone on to have professions in music, art and drama. 


“It’s really awesome to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. Obviously, the world is a lot bigger than SEB, but just knowing that you’re in that little community of people that decided that they wanted to do that for the rest of their life, is pretty exciting,” McMillan said, reflecting on the legacy of the individuals who graduated from these fine arts programs.


After graduation, McMillan hopes to attend college to study music education saying with confidence, “Music is what I’m supposed to do my whole life.”


No worries, though, McMillan has not given up her roots of acting on stage.

“I fell in love with choral music through theater almost. So to leave one behind, just really wouldn’t make sense to me,” she said, smiling.

She continued her love for acting by joining the drama program at SEBHS while also steadfastly performing on the Averitt Center stage. In joining the drama program, McMillan was awarded first prize at the state literary competition for Dramatic Interpretation in 2017.

On that same day, she also won top four slots in the Women’s Trio and Women’s Solo choral competitions.

At the end of our time together, I asked McMillan if she could give any advice to someone interested in pursuing the arts on how to turn their talent into a skill, so that they, too, could advance from elementary school stages to major ones.

“If you love it, don’t give up, keep trying. Get some training, get someone that will root for you and help you, but also critique you at the same time. (Don’t) let people put you down if you really want to do it,” she said.




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