As Christian Braz walks across the stage at Weeki Wachee High School’s 2014 commencement celebration tonight, he will take a final curtain bow, wearing the colors of a school that gave him reason to dream.
Braz was more than an active honor student. He dove into his passion with help from his middle school teacher, Morgan Burburan, who believed he would take his dramatic talent far. Luck played a role in Braz’s success as well, as he was able to follow his mentor to Weeki Wachee High School when she became the musical director.
As he celebrates graduation along with his classmates, Braz will reflect on how far he has come in his acting and performing career. This year, he became the first Hernando County recipient of the International Thespian award in drama, a recognition that is afforded to fewer than 100 Florida students.
While Braz is humbled by the attention, he knew he belonged on the stage, especially after his debut role as Dr. Dillamond in “Wicked” in eighth grade at West Hernando Middle School.
Braz has competed every year of high school in district competitions, obtaining several superior rankings, which allowed him to compete in state competitions held in Tampa.
Students perform in front of three top judges in the state who have extensive stage experience, mostly on Broadway.
“So you are expected to perform at high standards,” Braz said.
Each year, the convention is held for five days, an experience that Braz said was amazing.
“The entire city gets taken over by theater kids,” he said.
Braz will graduate with a burning ambition to continue his acting by attending Southeastern University in Lakeland on academic and theater scholarships where he will major in theater and minor in musical theater.
Braz certainly had some obstacles to overcome.
“I never really had a dad there for me,” he said, until his stepfather entered the picture. “He was the best person to come into our lives.”
Unfortunately, the family lost him recently, but their faith in each other and a strong spiritual foundation has kept this family, and Braz, reaching for every opportunity to grow.
He has dealt with a lot of sadness and anger in his life, said his mother, Nicki Braz Helsley.
Braz was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism, when he was young. He overcame periods of severe bullying as he struggled through social awkwardness.
But when he is in front of an audience, Helsley said, he shines.
“Fine arts saved his life because it brought out something deep in my son that allows him to flourish,” she said. “He would not be here had he not had that. Music and theater are his medicine.”
Christian Braz believes his struggles have built his character for performing.
“You can’t go up there having a perfect life and no emotion,” he said. “How are you going to find it within yourself and put it on stage?”
His favorite performances include, “Into the Woods,” where he doubled as Cinderella’s prince and the wolf, challenging his skill by providing two completely different performances. He had to change from a creepy, grungy wolf into a prince who was over-exaggerated.
The experience was perhaps the most notable character building exercise, he said, because he had to research and become two completely different roles in one production.
“I had to get deeper into the characters and be those characters” he said. “It is so much fun because I can be anything I want to be on stage.”
Christian Braz’s future ambitions include auditioning for a Broadway National Tour that travels across the county once he completes college.
For those underclassmen who follow in his dramatic footsteps after he leaves Weeki Wachee, Braz gave the following advice: “Stay positive and locked into what you want and don’t become distracted. You never know who people know.”
While his mother is overjoyed with her son’s accomplishments, her main concern is that Christian exemplifies his belief in God.
“And when he messes up, because he does from time to time, that he stands in front of whoever and whatever and says, ‘I messed up,’” Nicki Braz Helsley said.
For Braz, graduation will be a bittersweet reminder of how far he’s come and where he’s yet to go.
“I never thought I would be able to come to this kind of a level in my theater world, in my acting world,” he said. “I’ve grown so much since I first started theater in eighth grade.”
Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at email@example.com.