Have you ever had one of those moments where something strikes you a certain way, and it offers you a peek into the future? One of those moments where you get a glimpse of what might be, or better yet, what will be?
For me, one of those moments was the Saturday that Grace Fluharty auditioned for Cape Henry Collegiate’s production of “Shrek: The Musical.” Up until that point, I had primarily known Grace from my work with her as a Global Scholar, and as the daughter of two of my very good friends. I knew she was a kind person, a stellar student, and that she was very interested in theater.
And then, I heard her sing. The song was “Gimmie Gimmie” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” And I had that moment. I saw the marquee with Grace’s name in lights. I saw the Playbill with her headshot and bio. And I saw myself sitting in the theater cheering her on. If you’ve heard Grace sing, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Grace was in the 7th Grade when I started working at Cape Henry Collegiate in March of 2014. Over the last five years, I have had the honor of watching Grace grow in both her craft and her confidence. Grace has a natural effervescent energy and positive attitude. A joy to be with, she can light up a room with her warm smile and infectious laugh. She is sincere, she is authentic, and she brings that energy with her onto the stage.
Grace joined the Cape Henry Collegiate community in the Pre-Kindergarten program, making her a CHC Legend. With a laugh, Grace says, “I counted this morning, half-asleep - 15 years!” It should be no surprise that during her eight years in the Lower School, the memories that stood out for Grace involved performance, even on the smallest stages. “When I was in 2nd Grade and 4th Grade, I made two different bands with my friends,” Grace recalls. “One of my friends built a guitar out of Legos, and I wrote songs in my journals, and we would perform.”
It should also be no surprise that Grace’s favorite memories from Middle and Upper School revolved around what she will focus her studies on over the next four years - musical theater. Grace was featured as Sharpay in the 2011 Cape Henry production of “High School Musical, Jr!” and had the title role in the 2012 production of “The Little Mermaid.” As she continued on to the world of Upper School Musicals, “My three favorite shows were ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘Legally Blonde,’ and ‘Mamma Mia.’ Each of those characters has helped me become who I am.
“Playing Reno in ‘Anything Goes’ helped a lot with my self-confidence. She demanded attention, and had so much confidence. And I had to try to feel that, and it definitely changed the way that I walk into rooms today.” Grace continues, “Being Elle Woods in ‘Legally Blonde’ helped me be more confident in my personality, and being able to show that to everyone. Onstage, I was able to let that quirkiness come through, and it definitely taught me not to care as much what other people think.”
The final performance of “Mamma Mia” was truly a night Grace will never forget. “I was crying,” Grace recalls, “because I literally was singing about how I have a dream, and I’m moving on from my one life to the next. And I ended the show walking offstage. I looked at the audience, and I just started crying because it was so surreal. That was my last moment on stage at Cape Henry, and I’m moving on to New York City to follow my dream. It was a crazy feeling.”
During her Senior year, Grace had the opportunity to spread her creative wings in other capacities. As the president of the drama club, she oversaw both the Fall Festival haunted house, as well as the student directed plays. “I loved directing the play,” Grace says. “When I was little, I would make Barbie movies, and would plan how everything would go. So when I was able to direct my own play, I was able to envision how I wanted to see everything, which was really fun.
“I was also able to bond a lot with the Freshmen students, and I was able to work with them through other things in their life. It was a really good environment that we created.”
Just as Grace was able to be a role model for others, she is thankful for the role models she had during her time at Cape Henry Collegiate. When I asked Grace which teachers had been influential in her life, she blurted out, “Mr. Logan, definitely Mr. Logan. He has taught me to put my soul into every single piece I sing, and how to find passion in a challenge. I love being able to receive a really hard piece of music, and being able to dig into it and perfect it. Mr. Logan has definitely taught me that I can do anything I want if I try hard enough.” In the classroom, Grace learned a great deal about honing her craft as a writer from Mrs. Cabreros, as well as patience from Mr. Scott McGraw. “He has definitely taught me to just be calm,” Grace says. “Just go into an essay, just write it, don’t overthink it. He’s helped me a lot with being able to form essays, think coherently, and just be calm about it.”
Of course, where would any young thespian be without an exceptional teacher to guide them? For Grace, she was fortunate to find that foundation and guidance in her mother, Mrs. Stephanie Fluharty, Middle and Upper School theater teacher. “As a director, my mom has taught me to be real with my acting, which I think a lot of people forget,” comments Grace. “I know I’m always going to keep that in the back of my mind, to be natural and be real, both in acting and in life.”
Cape Henry Collegiate is definitely a Fluharty family affair: both of Grace’s parents are faculty members, her brother, Joe, is an alum, and her sister, Caroline, will be a Junior next year. While some students may shudder at the thought of having every member of her immediate family roaming the halls, for Grace, it was a welcomed comfort. “I love having my family here, especially my mom and dad,” says Grace. “It was never weird. I love being able to go in and talk to them about things during the school day, or see my sister as we’re changing classes.”
During my time at Cape Henry Collegiate, I have watched Grace mentor our younger Lower and Middle School students, offering guidance as their form their own musical aspirations. A true embodiment of the collaborative spirit of theater, Grace is always willing to share her expertise with young actors. This bond with our younger students, and her desire to help others bridge the gap between Middle and Upper School, compelled Grace to serve as a Peer Leader this year. She also made several close friends with the younger members of the Upper School chorus and Women’s Ensemble, often serving as a cheerleader to encourage them to consistently challenge themselves and do their best work.
When I asked Grace about what advice she offers to other CHC Upper School students, she replied, “Whenever I’m teaching younger students, in theater camps or student directed plays, as an upperclassman, I always think it is very important to be friends and very personal with them, just to show them that you don’t have to be rude to be cool. It’s ok to be yourself, and to be weird.
“Just keep doing what you love, especially in theater. I think a lot of kids are scared to do theater, because they don’t want to go outside their comfort zones. A lot of kids over the years have become more comfortable with themselves through performance, and we both feed off of each other, and it’s a very good environment. Create friendships with anyone, stay open minded, and just be yourself.”
In the fall of 2019, Grace will be taking a bite of the Big Apple as a member of the Freshman class at Marymount Manhattan College, having earned a coveted spot in their nationally ranked musical theater program. For Grace, the pull toward Marymount was bigger than just the surroundings of Midtown Manhattan. “It’s a very artsy environment,” says Grace, “full of creative minds. I could see myself being able to channel that creativity, and have that feed off of other creative minds.” While she will be focusing primarily on musical theater, Grace will also have the opportunity to learn more about costume design, which she has taken an interest in over the past few years. “I also love literature and writing, and I’ll have the opportunity to do that at Marymount as well.”
Grace continues, “Plus the actual theater there is gorgeous - it’s huge, and just stunning. I thought, ‘I want to perform on this stage.’ I could just feel that there were going to be big things there for me.”
Over the next several years, Grace is looking forward to focusing on becoming a part of the great New York theater community, and continuing to develop her natural talent. “I’m so excited just to be immersed in a city full of everything, and being able to do what I love,” Grace says. “I can’t wait to get up in the morning, and being able to dance, sing, as well as approach the rest of my subjects on a different level intellectually, in a school that’s in one of the greatest cities in the world.”
As the curtain closes on her time as a Dolphin, Grace is thankful for the community that has prepared her to take the leap and move on to the next stage of her life. “Cape Henry has given me the opportunity to push myself intellectually, but it’s also helped to shape me as a person. The teachers that I’ve had here, and the theater that I’ve done here, has all helped me understand life better, which I think makes you more of an understanding person. I think Cape Henry does a very good job at that, which we need in our society today.”