The International Thespian Festival

Recent studies show that 99% of the people currently reading this are either in high school or have at one point attended one, the other 1 percent is Michael Kape who’s older than any high school in the world, and there's a good chance that if you have an alma mater they had a theatre department of some sort, whether that means you performed the same version of Grease 4 years in a row or were the very first high school ever to perform Cats (Either way I feel sorry for you). There’s a possibility you may know about and be an alumni of the International Thespian Society, and I’ll be honest I don’t really know much about what that means. I think if you get enough points in the society it helps you get into a college or something, but what I do know is being in the thespian society grants you access to some of the incredibly cool events they do over the year, such as attend your states thespian festival no matter where you are across the US. However, I much more prefer the big event to end all high school theatre events that take place at the end of the school year and what a coincidence, it’s beginning right now on June 25th, 2018 in Lincoln, Nebraska! I am course talking about the International Thespian Festival.

Photo by m-gucci/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by m-gucci/iStock / Getty Images

So, allow me to help those of you who have never attended this festival try to understand what exactly it is. I want you to imagine 4,000+ theatre kids on a college campus and, before half of you scream, “That’s the best idea ever!” while everyone else prepares for the apocalypse, let me tell you, it’s some of the most fun you can ever have as a high schooler. I mean, after you finally figure out how to get back to your dorm after walking around in circles for three hours. The rest is great though.

The History
I guess since I sort of specialize in history with this blog I should tell you how all of this began and at what point someone decided this was a good idea, and no for those of you who read my “History of the Tonys” article I promise this time I’ll just cover the event and not the entire history of theatre and the world along with it. So, The International Thespian Festival began in 1941 at Indiana University, the festival was then briefly suspended because of World War 2 but held again in 1947 and 1949. However, the next ITF did not take place until 1952 and was then held every other year until 1982 when it became an annual event. The festival has had multiple homes in Indiana as well as where it is currently, The University of Lincoln Nebraska, and has been there since 1995. However, in order to accommodate more students, ITF is coming back home to Indiana and the IU Bloomington campus in 2020 which means a lot less driving for me.

 Alright, so now you should have a general idea what this thing is and where it comes from but where it’s held and who holds it barely matters, what matters is what happens during the event and from out of control rave-like dances to people who will teach you how to dance like you’re in the cast of Kinky Boots it’s like nothing else. There is so much to do at the festival!

Well, speaking of workshops, I mentioned the Kinky Boots dance workshop, but it’s worth noting that this year it’s a combination of Kinky Boots and another recent dance heavy musical that has the single best name I have ever heard: “The Kinky Showman”. If that doesn’t send whole lots of weird messages to your head such as, “I wonder what Hugh Jackman would look like in heels” I don’t know what will. These workshops are held be teachers and professionals from across the nation. My favorites are definitely the many improv workshops offered on basic games to learning how to improvise Shakespeare, they always end up being quite a bit of fun. There’s also workshops on how to play a believable villain, and how to turn one button down shirt into 20 different costumes. You’ll find that no matter what you do, whether it be act, dance, sing, or work in the dark on the technical side, there is something for you.

Festival after Dark
I mentioned before the dances which allow you to dress in different themes and relax and move a little after a very busy day. Thespians will get into their sharpest suits and ties on Tuesday and show their Lincoln pride by wearing blue and gold to the dances on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday the color code continues with a black out honoring some of the often unsung heroes on Thursday and  then wearing all red on Friday to celebrate Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, the organization founded to fight against the AIDS virus.

Individual Events/ Showcase
At the state thespian festivals, I told you about earlier you have the chance to audition for individual events through monologues, songs, etc. If you receive a high enough score you proceed on to showing off your I.E. at the International Thespian Festival where you have the chance to get your final score and show it off at a showcase taking place at the end of the week.

 Next Generation Works
Whether you write plays, musicals, critique works, or work in film, you have the chance to submit new works to be developed at the International Thespian Festival. Winners will have their new plays or musicals or etc produced, and others at the event have the ability to audition for them.

 The Auditions
Of course, being a theatre event there is bound to be some auditions of some sort and because colleges send out representatives to the festival, juniors have the chance to go ahead and audition for the college. Also, this year the touring cast of Dear Evan Hansen is having auditions for older high school students at the festival. In addition, through workshops you most certainly have the ability to practice and improve your auditions.

The Performances---Chapter Selects/Freestyle
However, it’s undeniable that while there’s plenty to do whether it be wander off campus to see a movie at the Lincoln Grand Cinema or visit what my school has deemed the “Black Market”, a nearby thrift store, or find the book store that’s home to many adorable felines or just attend the many workshops and activities provided by the Thespian Society. the best part of attending the festival is the many performances offered, and while the main stages are the biggest performances, there’s also a ton of other shows you can see at the event for free in your spare time such as the chapter selects which different performances taken by a high school theatre to be shown at one of the theatres on campus. The following is a list of all of the shows being presented as chapter selects at the festival this year.

Waylen - Owensboro High School, Troupe 3161, Owensboro, Kentucky

A Thousand Cranes- Centennial High School, Troupe 7997, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Becky's New Car - Flower Mound High School, Troupe 6154, Flower Mound, Texas

The Final Dress Rehearsal - Pennsbury High School, Troupe 830, Fairless Hills,Pennsylvania

12 Hour Life - Pleasant Valley High School, Troupe 856, Bettendorf, Iowa

Check Please: Take 2 - Queen Creek High School, Troupe 6152, Queen Creek, Arizona

The Bible In 30 Minutes...Or Less - Pomona High School, Troupe 4203, Arvada, Colorado

13 - Perry High School, Troupe 7424, Gilbert, Arizona

Picnic - Hopewell Valley Central High School, Troupe 7964, Pennington, New Jersey

Down Came the Rain - Caddo Parish Magnet High School, Troupe 3594, Shreveport,Louisiana

The Machine - Riverton High School, Troupe 1887, Riverton, Wyoming

Aida - Rock Ridge High School, Troupe 8104, Ashburn, Virginia

Every Brilliant Thing - Smith-Cotton High School, Troupe 4261, Sedalia, Missouri

Stupid F Bird - Patuxent High School, Troupe 6194, Lusby, Maryland

The Bible in 30 Minutes...Or Less - Olathe North High School, Troupe 3310, Olathe, Kansas

Be the Light - Omaha Burke High School, Troupe 4138, Omaha, Nebraska

Stressed - Russellville High School, Troupe 7260, Russellville, Arkansas

The Women of Lockerbie - Cambridge-Isanti High School, Troupe 8406, Cambridge, Minnesota

Waylen - Northwestern High School, Troupe 3924, Kokomo, Indiana

Grandma Duck is Dead - Paul M. Dorman High School, Troupe 3322, Roebuck, South Carolina

Shipwrecked - American Leadership Academy, Troupe 7597, Spanish Fork, Utah

Digging Up the Boys - Great Falls High School, Troupe 1364, Great Falls, Montana

Bury the Dead - Bridgeport High School, Troupe 7549, Bridgeport, West Virginia

21 Chump Street - Grimsley High School, Troupe 7993, Greensboro, North Carolina

The Yellow Boat - Fullerton Union High School, Troupe 2498, Fullerton, California

The Shape of the Grave - Northwest Rankin High School, Troupe 5727, Flowood, Mississippi

20 Play in 40 Minutes - Singapore American School, Troupe 3674, Singapore

Laundry and Bourbon - Glencoe High School, Troupe 7125, Hillsboro, Oregon

As well as chapter selects, you can also see shows never seen before written by someone involved with the high school to be performed for the very first time as a part of the Freestyle Theatre at festival, those shows this year are the following...


 Speak Up! - Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Troupe 5524, Long Beach, California

Dark Road - Los Alamitos High School, Troupe 7944, Los Alamitos, California

A New York Minute - Nuview Bridge Early College High School, Troupe 8117, Nuevo, California

18 Plays in 30 Minutes - Denver School of the Arts, Troupe 5869, Denver, Colorado

Radium Girls - Hayden Catholic High School, Troupe 7275, Topeka, Kansas

Under the Radar - East High School, Troupe 2162, Cheyenne, Wyoming

It's Hansel and Gretel - Alice High School, Troupe 5191, Alice, Texas

Lunch - Dandan Middle School, Hopwood Junior High School, San Antonio Middle School, Troupes 89328, 88755, 88752, Northern Marianas Islands

Chairs - John R. Mott High School, Troupe 417, Postville, Iowa

The Mad Breakfast - Sam Barlow High School, Troupe 1145, Gresham, Oregon

Cycle of Life: A Devised Work - New Kent High School, Troupe 7644, New Kent, Virginia

LOVE - Henry J. Kaiser High School, Troupe 6721, Fontana, California

Gardens - Council Rock High School North, Troupe 5028, Newtown, Pennsylvania

Spontaneous Combustion - South Dade Senior High School, Troupe 3637, Homestead, Florida

The Sibling Support Group - Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, Troupe 8334, Scottsdale, Arizona

Overtones - Brownell Talbot School, Troupe 8093, Omaha, Nebraska

Crimson Thread - Shadow Ridge High School, Troupe 7547, Surprise, Arizona

The Mainstage Performances
Out of all the performances, by far, there isn’t any bigger or better than the ones presented on Lincoln’s prestigious main stages, The Kimball and The Lied. A show is determined whether it goes to The Kimball or The Leid based on the size of the show selected. In order for a show to be able to perform on a main stage it must first be adjudicated by one of the representatives of the International Thespian Society. This year high schools from all around the country fought for only 11 spots to perform at the festival. Those adjudicated in the fall were given the first 8 spots and then 3 more were chosen from those adjudicated in the spring. Having a show selected to perform on of the main stages in Nebraska is an incredibly difficult task as well as a huge deal. This year also marks the first year in a while that saw a change in Monday's opening show, what is usually a cabaret featuring Broadway stars as well as high schoolers who auditioned to perform in the show has been replaced with an award winning documentary about the high school that took The Color Purple to Nebraska in 2013, called Purple Dreams. The other shows will be shown throughout the rest of the week.

(I have also reached out to a few people involved in these shows for an interview to give you a better idea what a massive task as well as a massive reward it is to be able to perform on the main stage.)

Playingon the Kimball and truly being the first performance to open the festival is Blue Valley North High School’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the play is an adaptation of the play Servant of two masters and tells the story and antics of a man employed by two people at once who has to keep the two from meeting each other and finding out his secret.

One Man, Two Guvnors performs at the Kimball Theatre Monday June 25h.

Playing secondly on the Kimball is a musical based off of celtic folktales put to celtic music. It is Paola High School’s production of Celtic Tales.

Celtic Tales performs at the Kimball Theatre Tuesday June 26th.

Opening the Lied stage as the first non movie performance its the story of unlikely hero Jack Kelly who organizes a band of newsboys and a spunky reporter to show the world just what they can do as they go on strike for fair wages, its of course Disney’s Newsies. I interviewed a member of the technical crew to tell you more about what’s it’s been like being apart of the show is Jorah Heitz

When I asked Jorah, who went in 2016 with 42nd Street what has been different with that show and Newsies she responded with

“I was a level three tech in 42nd Street which meant having a lot less responsibilities and a lot less time spent at rehearsals.”

When I asked her what her responsibilities as a technical member is, she responded with,

“I am a deck chief which means a lot less paperwork and other preshow responsibilities that come with being an assistant stage manager. My responsibilities are making sure other technical members are near me and ready for their cues, and when told by the stage manager to give them their cues.”

Disney’s Newsies performs at the Lied Theatre Tuesday June 26th.

Based on the book, and the two Disney movies of the same name, it’s an all new musical about a mother and a daughter who find out just what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes when they switch bodies and have to figure out how to switch back. Its Bradford High School back again to the main stage for the 8th year in a row with the pilot production of Disney’s Freaky Friday playing on the Kimball stage and here to tell you more about this new production is Colin Swanson

When I asked Colin what it’s been like being a part of Freaky Friday he replied with

“it has been so much fun being a part of Freaky Friday!! I love the show and I love the music and I love that Disney Channel is getting involved and that they are going to be filming us in interviewing us throughout our whole process”

And when I asked him what he was most excited about taking Freaky Friday to ITF he responded with,

“The most exciting part about bringing Freaky Friday to the festival is that we get to premier Freaky Friday for Disney and that Disney Channel is coming along with us on our journey”

Disney’s Freaky Friday performs at the Kimball Theatre on Wednesday June 27th.

An incredibly wealthy lady returns to her old home town with a dangerous offer to reward whoever can kill the man who got her pregnant, this showing of The Visit will be performed by Edina High School on the Leid

The Visit performs at the Lied Theatre on Wednesday, June 27th.

Imagine a world where it’s a privilege to pee and you have the setting of the hilarious musical comedy with a production showing on the Kimball stages by Pittsburg High Schools, Urinetown!

Urinetown performs at the Kimball Theatre on Thursday June 28th

Based on Tim Burton's movie of the same name is a heartwarming musical about family, friends, and what truly is fact and fiction join Will the son of the storytelling Edward Bloom as he tries to figure out what of his father's life and the stories he’s told are real and what isn’t. It’s the Illinois all-state production of Big Fish at the Lied center, and here to tell you more about the musical is an ensemble member of the production, Nolan Rice

When I asked Nolan what it was like having to wait to see if Big Fish would be able to perform at the festival he had this to say,

“I remember being in the rehearsal room when Wilson (our director) was telling us about the Nationals experience. From there, all we were able to do was look forward to our closing performance at Illinois State University and wait for the six or seven judges to see if we would make it. Funny enough, all but one judge missed their flight to the performance, so it all relied on one judge! Receiving nearly perfect scores, we found out one night, then discussed how we would meet up again weeks later. All there was support and love for being around each other again”

When I asked him what he was most excited about taking the show to Nebraska he also had this to say,

“we’ve been so excited for meeting new people at nationals and learning new things, that I’m basically forgetting that I AM in fact performing in front of the whole country. I’ve been studying theatre for the last few years, and the greatest thing that I think can apply to performing Big Fish is that we are all here to tell a story. ESPECIALLY in a story like Big Fish, which is about when you have nothing left in the world, the greatest thing you have is the power to make someone smile through storytelling.”

Big Fish performs at the Lied Theatre Thursday June 28th

A woman astronomer in the 19th century dealing with prejudice, family troubles, and the possibility of love. Its Mount Carmel Academy’s performance of Silent Sky on the Kimball stage

Silent Sky performs at the Kimball Theatre on Friday, June 29th.

Experience the tragic and touching tale of Alice Murphy, set in the mountains of North Carolina it’s the pilot production of Bright Star performed on The Lied stage by West Orange High School and here to tell you more is the actress playing Alice herself, Kassidy Weideman

When I asked Kassidy what is was like piloting the musical she responded with this to say,

“Piloting Bright Star was one of the most INCREDIBLE opportunities I’ve ever had. Bright Star was one of my favorite musicals before we found out we were doing it so I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was”

When I asked her what new challenges were thrown at her doing Bright Star she replied with,

Bright Star is such an incredibly realistic show especially since it is based on a true story. Having to incorporate the realism into the actions and emotions on stage was definitely the biggest aspect that changed me as an actor and performer!”

Bright Star performs at The Lied Theatre on Friday, June 29th.

A fictional spelling bee set in the fiction Putnam County, it’s of course the comedy musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performed by the Denver Schools of the Arts on the Kimball.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performs at the Kimball Theatre on Saturday, June 30th.

Stephen Gregg renowned playwright returns to tell the chilling story of a dangerous event and disappearance in a theatre. Nothing else can be said about because I am legally obliged to not tell the secrets of what this Lied center play holds. It is Olathe South High School’s production of Trap, and here to tell you more about it is the director himself David Hastings

When I asked him what was it like deciding to do Trap and deciding to have it adjudicated for the festival, he responded with,

“It was easy. I love Stephen Gregg’s plays. The impulse from the beginning—since it was a new play—was to get it in front of as many people as possible.”

And when I asked him what he thought about closing the festival he responded with,

“I’m most excited to watch my students see the Lied Center from the stage, as well as watching them perform on the 30th. I hadn’t really thought much about closing the festival. We are excited, and we are humbled to have this opportunity. We can’t thank EdTA and ITF enough for giving us this opportunity. But for now, the play’s not over. We have our work to do. Our rehearsals are finished. Our set is ready to go in our truck. We have two more performances in Kansas City. And then … our goal is to scare our audience to death.”

Trap performs at the Lied Theatre on Saturday June, 30th.
So there you have it! From star studded performances to incredible learning opportunities, The International Thespian Festival is the way to be and while it’s too late to go this year. Even more incredible shows and similar workshops and almost identical opportunities will be available next year!

Well, I got a campus to explore and shows to see and so many things to do, so until next time, I’m Taylor Lockhart and thanks for reading the blog!