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The Salem News Art Stars from Salem High School

  • 6 min to read

There’s no question that the North Shore is brimming with student ingenuity.

Whether it be singing, writing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, animation or other artistic mediums, many local students are innovators in their field of art.

The Salem News presents its second annual series to acknowledge students on the North Shore who are gifted in the arts.

The region’s high schools have nominated students who excel in the visual, performing or musical arts. Continuing the series are three students from Salem High School who have received accolades for their work in theater, music, painting and more.

We asked the nominees — Sophie Leiton Toomey, Alex Debski and Jacqueline Muise — questions related to their artistic talents, accomplishments and future plans. Their responses are below.


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Sophie Leiton Toomey sings on stage.

Sophie Leiton Toomey

  • Age: 19
  • Grade: Senior
  • GPA: 4.078
  • Artistic talents: Sings, acted with the drama club in musicals for four years, having leading roles in the last two productions, and festival drama for two years as well.
  • Extracurricular activities: I play violin in the SHS Orchestra and I play flute in the SHS Marching Band.
  • Awards and recognition: Rookie of the Year Award, 2012; Most Improved Actress, 2013; Outstanding Performance Award and Drama Club Diva Award, 2014.

Where will you be going to college, and what is your intended major?

Well, for at least the first year, I will be going to Salem State University and learning all that I can from the wonderful theater program there. Many of my coworkers have come out of that program and they are wonderful performers. I hope to come out of there the same way. But I know that I love the city and that I want to be there someday, and hopefully I will. Only time will tell.

Tell us how you got started in the arts. How old were you, and what piqued your interest?

A lot of people don’t know this, but when I was 3, I was diagnosed with autism and, as a result, I couldn’t really speak what I wanted to say and really couldn’t communicate with others the way that the other kids around me could. For them, communication and understanding came easy. For me, even now, it is still a huge struggle and I often hate my autism for giving such a struggle to live with. During that time, I learned how to speak through singing. I would often watch these actors in films and musicals that my parents took me to and it honestly made me see the world in a completely different light. For me, when I heard Julie Andrews singing in the “Sound of Music,” I realized that her character couldn’t speak the words she wanted to say and had to sing them. I also watched a lot of Shakespeare when I was a child … [Shakespeare] made me laugh, cry and think a lot more about the world than my parents or I thought that I could. I think what piqued my interest at first in the world of theater was that it taught me how to speak.

Why do you love your art?

I don’t consider myself to be very good with my social skills. I am better than I was years ago, without a doubt, but I have always struggled with that my entire life. But honestly, I just feel more comfortable on that stage than in real life. People have honestly told me that they can’t believe the difference in the me they meet and the me they see on stage. I feel like I’m a different person as well, which gives me a lot of relief because it’s just a wonderful feeling to have that spotlight on you as someone that you’re not, and you have the amazing ability in your hand to tell that story. Among many things, I think that’s what gives me the most pride in my art.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments within your art field?

The proudest moment for me was when I was cast as Hamlet in a summer camp I went to for four years called Rebel Shakespeare. While theater and musical theater definitely were factors in making me fall in love with theater, Shakespeare gave me passage into worlds I didn’t know existed. Many of my friends cannot even begin to start with Shakespeare and I can, which gives me a great sense of pride. “Hamlet” was always my favorite play and I always dreamed of playing him, even though I’m a girl. When I was cast, I had never been so happy in my entire life, and to this day, I have never forgotten that feeling.

How have you balanced school with your art?

I have balanced school with my art, even though it has been so difficult with all the hours I put into the things that I have done at my high school. My freshman year, the midterms were right on top of tech week for our drama production, which, needless to say, brought a lot of stress and anxiety. Thankfully, I managed to get used to that over the last four years.

What are some of your future goals related to your art?

It may be a huge dream that will never happen, but I have dreamed of Broadway since I was a little girl and, more than anything, I want to be there someday as one of the best in the world … I want to become one of the best in the world.

Do you have plans to continue studying your art in college, either as a hobby or as a major? How did you come to this decision?

It did take me a while to come to my decision, as I know that theater is a very risky field to go into because of how rigorous it is, and how people are very lucky to even get any professional jobs [in this field] … But I do know one thing: there has been nothing that has filled me with more life and joy as theater has done for me all my life. It’s a really magic moment when I get up on that stage and just forget that the world and that even my identity exist, because in that moment, Sophie Leiton Toomey is gone and the only person there is, is the character that I am playing and all the people on the stage are the people within that world with me. Sadly, as much as I love history and English, among other things, they don’t fill me with as much happiness as when I am in rehearsal or on stage.


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Alex Debski, a percussionist, hopes to someday be in the Boston Pops.

Alex Debski

  • Age: 15
  • Grade: Sophomore
  • GPA: 3.6
  • Artistic talents: Percussion, drums, solo marimba, piano and tuba.
  • Extracurricular activities: I love to kayak. I bought a kayak last summer and go out whenever possible. I took lessons during the winter at the YMCA pool. I can now roll the kayak.
  • Awards and recognition: This year, I was selected for the Plymouth State Music Festival, Senior District Festival, UMass Honors Band and the All-State Band and Orchestra.

Tell us how you got started in the arts. How old were you, and what piqued your interest?

I started playing percussion in the fourth grade. I was always drumming on my desk with hands. It drove the teachers crazy.

Why do you love your art?

I enjoy learning new music and having the opportunity to play with many different groups and different conductors.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments within your art field?

I was recently named a Finalist in the Fidelity Young Artist Competition. I had the opportunity to perform on stage at Symphony Hall. Unfortunately, I was not selected as a Grand Finalist to play with the Boston Pops. I have two more chances to audition.

How have you balanced school with your art?

Being busy with music activities has taught me time-management skills that help me get my school work done.

What are some of your future goals related to your art?

I want to be in the Boston Pops.


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Jacqueline Muise's painting titled "Thoughts on Evolution."

Jacqueline Muise

  • Age: 16
  • Grade: Junior
  • GPA: 4.259
  • Artistic talents: Illustration, graphic design, painting and drawing.
  • Extracurricular activities: In addition to my academics, I am also involved in the Dance Committee, the National Honor Society, and I am also president of the National Art Honor Society.
  • Awards and recognition: Silver Key, Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; Student of the Month; participant in the Endicott College High School Art Exhibition.

Tell us how you got started in the arts. How old were you, and what piqued your interest?

Professionally, I started my exploration in the arts between fifth and sixth grade, where I started to create my own comic book characters and storyline. I was inspired when I had found one of my grandfather’s paintings and learned of his talents, which were also passed down to my uncle. Being the only thing I knew about my grandfather at the time, I decided to practice with my talents more regularly, rather than draw when I was bored.

Why do you love your art?

For me, art has always been my way of relaxing and expressing myself. Having been a passion since I was a small child. I hold a deep connection with the pieces I create.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments within your art field?

My greatest accomplishment thus far in the art field is my advancement and transitioning to more professional arts that will lead me to success and recognition for my talents.

How have you balanced school with your art?

With school work piled high for a majority of the year, I focus insistently on my academics over anything as it’s the structure of my future. Therefore, my first priority is doing my homework or studying, then using spare time to sketch. However, I use my electives to take various art courses to get that practice in each day.

What are some of your future goals related to your art?

In my future, I am determined to make a career of my art and become a comic book artist and animator that will bring me great success.

Do you have plans to continue studying your art in college, either as a hobby or as a major? How did you come to this decision?

After graduating from high school, I plan on attending an art school to major in illustration, animation and graphic design. I came to this decision after realizing that my passion for art surpasses that as simply being a hobby.

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