August 20, 2019

Telling Stories Through Music

Jack Zager, 18
High School: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA)
College: Undecided

On something of a whim two years ago, Jack Zager attended an original theatrical performance at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, put on by The Miracle Project.

“Without knowing really what it was, I fell in love with it,” Zager, who lives in West Hollywood, told the Journal. That summer, he began volunteering with the program for kids, teens and adults with autism.

“From the moment Jack entered our classroom, he demonstrated levels of compassion and empathy rarely seen in other human beings, let alone teenagers,” Elaine Hall, founder of The Miracle Project, told the Journal. “Jack has always been able to not just support but truly befriend our students, many of whom have never before connected to a neurotypical peer.”

Although it was Zager’s first experience working with people with autism, he had clocked plenty of hours in the theater as a student at the prestigious LACHSA. There, he landed multiple roles in school productions. And while he loves singing and acting, he is even more passionate about composing for musical theater.

“Being able to give anybody and everybody the opportunity to tell a story. … It’s been the most rewarding experience ever.”

Zager recently completed his third season with GRoW @ The Wallis’ Creating Musical Theater program, a highly selective and intimate program designed to support teams of emerging artists who have not yet had their works professionally produced. Through this program, Zager had the opportunity to learn from some of the most esteemed artists in the field, including Stephen Schwartz, who wrote “Godspell” and “Wicked,” to name a few. Schwartz helped Zager and his collaborator, Rhiannon Lewis, a recent LACHSA graduate, refine their most recent musical, “38 Minutes,” about last year’s nuclear-missile false alarm in Hawaii. The musical explores the question “What would you do with your family if you knew you had only 38 minutes to live?” Zager said.

Zager and Lewis also created an eight-minute musical comedy called “Afikomen: The Musical” independently of GRoW. It is about “a feuding family that settles old scores based on finding the afikomen,” Zager said. “The stakes are very high, like ‘Game of Thrones.’ ” Zager also penned a song for the most recent Miracle Project production, “Identity: The Musical.”

Since becoming involved with The Miracle Project two summers ago, it has become an increasingly important part of Zager’s life. He has spoken about it at two school assemblies with the objective of getting other LACHSA students involved — something with which he has had great success. He also has managed to get the school’s administration on board. As a result, LACHSA Miracle now is a semi-official entity.

Zager still is finalizing his plans for this summer and fall. He is college bound, but weighing his options. He was accepted into the University of Arizona and has been waitlisted at Princeton and UCLA. Wherever he ends up, he hopes to stay involved in The Miracle Project, or he might create a local branch.

“Being able to give anybody and everybody the opportunity to tell a story,” he said, “to feel comfortable enough to express themselves on stage, which I think is the most powerful medium. … It’s been the most rewarding experience ever.”

Keep on reading about our 2019 Outstanding Seniors here.