When Lawren Brianna Ware moved up from Alabama to Wisconsin she just wanted to explore the arts in a new place. Snowy Madison was a far cry from her warm, southern home. Being in a new place can be daunting and for any of us who have ever moved, one of the first questions we ask ourselves is, “what is there to do around here?”

That’s why when she saw there was a place called Overture Center for the Arts doing a local talent competition called Rising Stars she figured, “hey, why not.”

Brianna is a piano major at the University of Wisconsin. She is currently getting her Masters Degree in Piano Studies and was eager to show off her skills in an open competition.

“It was kind of a two-layered process,” Ware said. “We had to apply. It was a free application. Then I went to one of two audition dates and sites and did my audition. Normally there are 15 acts chosen. This year, though, there were 19. So there were 19 acts in the finals.”

The finals took place last Saturday, September 9 at Overture Center. On the line was  a financial prize and also an opportunity to perform at Overture Center during their regular season. For Ware, winning the competition wasn’t something she had even thought of.

“It was in the Capitol Theater stage in Overture Center. It was a beautiful venue,” she says. “I had never been there. They kind of did it like an American Idol type thing with judges and an mc and deliberations. Honestly, I was extremely shocked I won. I had no idea how people would receive my act and I definitely did not expect to win. When they called my name I was shocked. I’m extremely honored because the talent was amazing from everyone.”

That talent included aerial acrobats, vocalists and dancers from all over Wisconsin. Ware decided to go with what she knows: classical piano.

“I performed a piece called ‘Black Earth’ by Fazil Say,” Ware said. “It’s technically classified as classic piano repertoire but this composer is still living. I have to use extended techniques where I play regularly but also have to stick my fingers inside the piano where I mute the strings and create something like a guitar sound.”

Brianna Ware performs “Black Earth” at a UW recital hall in 2016. She performed the same piece last Saturday at Overture Center to win the Rising Stars competition.

Adding some nuance to her performance by going inside the piano certainly set Ware apart from the other contestants, along with her clearly defined level of skill.

“I’m sure some of them were wondering what I was doing,” Ware says with a chuckle. “What I was thinking is I wondered how classical piano would be received, let alone experimental piano. But the piece also incorporated a jazzy feel. It was just different.”

Next season, Ware plans to be back at Overture Center to receive her biggest accolade from winning the Rising Stars competition: A chance to play live in front of an audience all her own.

“I feel like the Rising Stars or any type of talent search is extremely important because it not only gives these artists the chance to show what they can do, but it also gives the community the chance to get to see them and have some interest,” Ware says. “Young kids may be seeing these other children singing and say maybe they can do it. Maybe someone is interested in experimental piano. It ignites a fire.”

Ware hopes to ignite that fire in someone else when she takes the stage at Overture during the 2018/19 season.

“I have no idea what it will be or when it will be, but I’m excited,” Ware said. “It would be a dream.”