Story by Paige Nelson and Hannah West
In 1996, Adam Cates graduated from McQueen High School to pursue his dreams of being a dancer, choreographer, actor, singer, director, writer, educator and producer in New York City.
With the support of several different teachers and administrators from McQueen, Cates’ career flourished, after being the Associate Choreographer of the Tony Award-winning “Best Musical” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Cate’s also assisted Kathleen Marshall on the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Anything Goes, along with many other successes as well.
Cates’ original inspiration to dance came from his older sister, and although he was not all that great at sports, Cates said he did like to perform.
“Dancing was fun and easily accessible, so I strapped on my first pair of tap shoes when I was eight years old,” Cates said. “I don’t know when I made the decision to dedicate my life and livelihood to the arts, but by the time I got to high school, I knew.”
According to Cates, McQueen was an incredible and special school where sports, academics and the arts were all supported and celebrated equally. There was a booster group who encouraged students, as individuals, to discover new things and pursue their dreams.
“Football stars sang in the choir, the student body president acted in the school play, softball players painted murals in the hallway. It was a cool time to be there,” Cates said. “We weren’t a perfect student body, but there was a general atmosphere of respect for others and whatever gifts they had to offer.”
A few select teachers also had a major impact on Cates and his career. They helped him grow and supported his dreams, which eventually came true. Mrs. Burt, who put Cates in the choir musicals, Mrs. Vaughn, who was his debate coach and public speaking mentor, Mrs. Rue, who according to Cates “was our incredible drama teacher who cast me in many plays.” Mrs. Shields who showed incredible support, and last, Mrs. Clewe, a leadership teacher, who would let Cates write scripts for school assemblies and announcements. In these scripts, he shares he would often get in touch with his humorous side.
“I only got in trouble a couple times for my jokes, but I still stand by them. They were funny!” Cates said.
Along with teachers, some administration helped Cates as well, the two vice principals at the time, Mrs. Depoli and Mrs. Freeman who asked Cates to choreograph McQueen’s numbers for the annual lip sync fundraiser.
After all the years since he has graduated, he shares these teachers still hold a special place in his heart. Claiming his former teachers and administrators “made an impact” on his life more than they could’ve realized at the time.
“It really isn’t a common dream for someone to want to grow up and be on Broadway.” Cates said. “Yet, there was never a teacher that didn’t look at me and say ‘go for it.’ I felt lucky to go to a school like that.”
Out of high school, Cates continued down the path to achieve his dreams. In New York Cates began choreographing and directing for various productions. Two of the biggest Broadway successes Cates got the opportunity to be a part of included, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and the Broadway revival of Anything Goes. Each later striking big by winning Tony Awards.
Cates credits both wins to the entire musicals’ collaborative teams, and shares what it was like for him to win such a prestigious award, and watch his dreams come true.
“Theater is a very collaborative art form and everyone’s work must come together to support the whole. I was so lucky to strike gold with winning teams twice.” Cates said. “It is pretty amazing to win the biggest prize in your industry amongst your colleagues and then go dance the night away at a black tie ball that is the hottest party in New York City that night.”
Cates, currently working on a new musical, Anastasia, set to hit Broadway this spring. Is hoping to possibly have another Tony award win in his future. Regardless of what the future holds for the show, Cates is still grateful to have the opportunity to be apart of such a production. In the end, Cates already gets to be living his dream.
As a McQueen alumni, Cates has pieces of advice to offer McQueen students with a dream. He sticks to the philosophy anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to, and work hard for.
“If I can achieve my dreams, why can’t you?” Cates said. “Don’t be afraid to embrace hard work. Train like your life, and livelihood depends on it. Find an institute of higher learning that has a good program where you can become best that you can at what you love.”
For performers, and those who have an idea in their lives to “become famous,” Cates has more to offer in the way of advice.
“Now is not the time to ‘get famous.’” Cates said. “Now is the time to push yourself as an artist and do what you can to contribute something unique and special to the world. You have the right to pursue your dreams. Believe that.”
While Cates’ successful career began in Reno, in 2014 The City of Reno declared November 24th as “Adam Cates Day” for his national contribution to the arts.
As an extremely accomplished man, Adam faces the question, “What is your biggest accomplishment in your professional career?” In this, his response is not one that includes a list of things he has accomplished.
Throughout his extremely accomplished professional career, Cates’ has a list of accomplishments, however there is one he considers to be above all.
“I was born to tell stories, I was born to express my views of the world through an incredible medium, I was born to connect with an audience and challenge them to feel something, joy, sorrow, empathy, etc.,” Cates said. “I turned my dreams into a career. I make my living doing what I love, not everyone can say they get to do that. It isn’t as easy as it looks, but the sacrifices in the end are worth it to me. This life is pretty cool.”