Highschool Theatre

Spotlight on the Small Ones: Zneefrock Productions

Jonathan Fong

In one of my earlier articles on this blog, I praised the smaller, less-known side of theatre—community theatre, amateur dramatics, high school theatre, etc — and how much they truly bring to the theatrical community as a whole. In line with that, I figured I’d start a little series of articles to do just that—put a spotlight onto the lesser-known theatre companies, organizations and people who make theatre what it is.

Zneefrock Productions, based in Woodmere, New York, is a youth theatre company that embodies everything that youth and the next generation bring to theatre. Founded by (then-12 year old) Andrew Feldman in 2014 (yes, the Andrew Feldman that’s currently starring in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), it has grown from a simple Bar Mitzvah project of a cabaret of showtunes to an established company who’ve performed everything from fully-fledged licensed productions of big musicals like Seussical and Be More Chill to concert performances akin to their first and even original musicals. And it’s run by teenagers.

They have a mission. The company raises money for, among other organizations, NEXT for AUTISM, an organization supporting people with autism across America in societies and communities; Feldman, who has a cousin with autism, explains in an interview on Odyssey that donating to them was “the obvious choice”. Run by teens at the forefront of the social movements of today, the company draws attention to the social dynamics of modern society in their productions. Their aforementioned production of Seussical, in Feldman’s own words, was a “re-imagining…more stripped-down and socially conscious”, while their novel production of The Last Five Years featured a rotating cast with differing gender pairings, with some performances done traditionally and others with one or both of the two main characters of Jamie and Cathy gender-swapped to explore the differences in gender dynamics caused by the flipping of gender roles and expectations on their head, even if within the confines of the same story.

They don’t mess around either. Their first original musical, a Star Wars parody named SW: A New(sical) Hope written by Feldman and Adrian Dickson, is a full hour and forty minutes long with an intermission to boot (an official recording of the full show can be found on YouTube). They’ve professionally recorded cast albums for their shows—their cast recording for A New(sical) Hope can be found on Soundcloud. And as a non-profit theatre company, they’ve raised over $21,000 US in support of autism-supporting organizations; their very first cabaret raised a thousand dollars for the cause, while more recently their production of Seussical raised $5000 and their production of Be More Chill, staged right before the show’s current Broadway run, raised a full $9000.

The point is—Zneefrock is what theatre should be. Not flashiness or money—they, driven not by money nor visual spectacle but by the society and social movements of today, demonstrate the power of youth. Not just within the theatre, but of theatre itself, in helping those among us in need and putting a spotlight on the chasms and gaps in modern society which need addressing. And with members of their company going on to achieve great things already out there in the world of professional theatre, there’s no doubt that they’re a force to be reckoned with, no matter how small they may appear to be.

What Highschool Theatre Taught Me

Amelia Brooker

Preparing to graduate high school, I am looking back on the moments that shaped me through the last few years. The most vivid memories, the times that have stuck with me, are those spent with my high school theatre company.

High school theatre taught me to sing, dance, and act, but also taught me so much about myself and my relationship with the world around me. Some of the best lessons do not have to do with theatre specifically, but how to succeed in general. The following are five of the best lessons I learned in high school theatre, which are ideal for both students entering this sphere, as well as anyone entering a new area of life.

1. Do not hold anything back

Looking back on my theatre experience, my biggest regret is not pushing myself further. Whether it comes from self-consciousness or lack of experience, it is easy to hold back in some areas. Giving anything less than one hundred percent will inhibit you as you move forward. You might not have any dance experience but seek help and practice. You might be bad at improv but give it a try and hope for the best. Nothing but good will come of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

2. Avoid the drama

What do you get when you put a few dozen of the most dramatic kids in school together in one room, for five, ten, fifteen hours a week? And then have them compete for roles? Even the closest and kindest groups of theatre kids will get on each other’s nerves once in a while. The best advice I can give is to stay out of it completely. Do not spread rumors, criticize other performers, or give in to any drama. You’ll be happier if you stay out of it all.

3. Be a team player

Theatre is a team sport. Even a small-scale production requires dozens of people to fulfill all the necessary requirements. You will need to work with all kinds of people who have different ideas, points of view, and levels of experience. Listen to others’ ideas with an open mind, speak with kindness, and treat everyone equally. Trusting the people you work with is of the utmost importance in theatre, whether it be actors, directors, stage managers, or crew. Because in such an unpredictable environment, strong and trusting relationships will take your far.

4. Adaptability is your best asset

To build off the last point, working with others sometimes requires compromise. You might disagree with how a director wants to do something or have a discrepancy with another actor or crew member. The choreography might change the week before the show, or a new rehearsal be added last minute. Live theatre is fast-paced and unpredictable, so going with the flow is always the best option. Being able to adapt to a new situation or rise to the occasion will serve much better than fighting it.

5. Be present and enjoy yourself

It is no secret that doing theatre on top of the regular stresses of high school can be difficult. Like any other class or activity, it requires you to put your best foot forward in order to succeed. However, the memories you make and the relationships you build will make it all worthwhile. Through the early morning and late-night rehearsals, quick trips for food before rehearsals. and bonding over show runs, theatre can be some of the best times of your high school life. Enjoy every burst of laughter, every piece of fun choreography, every song you get to belt out with your friends. Create an atmosphere of positivity and creativity and be your authentic self. Do everything you can so that in the future, you can look back and smile.


How to Succeed in Performing Without Really Trying

Elizabeth Bergmann

Three years ago, at the 2016 Tony Awards, James Corden sang about how seeing a show makes us say "That could be me!" When I was a freshman in high school, I was cut from the volleyball team and needed a new activity to fill my fall semester, so my band squad leader suggested the fall play. In the summer of 2018, I talked my whole family (Mom, Dad, and younger brother) into doing The Music Man with my community theatre family. We all have different ways that we find ourselves wanting to enter the world of theatre. Maybe a local group is doing one of your favorite shows, or a friend keeps insisting you should do a show together (I am this friend).


Whatever the reason, providence seems determined to get you in a show. If you’re brand-new, from a non-theatre family, and generally haven’t done anything except those school plays about bullying and the seasons, you have no clue what you’re getting into. The idea of auditioning for a big show can be terrifying. People throw out words like “blocking” and “dramaturge” and you have no clue what they’re talking about. With no single source of all this information available up to this point, I’ve decided to become that single source myself. I plan to focus on auditions for musical theatre, mostly because those tend to be the most complicated, but aspects of it will apply to auditioning for plays, as well. So, if you have no clue where to start, why not start here?


Where do I find a group to do a show with?

There are lots of Facebook groups for different theatrical groups and communities. I’m lucky enough to currently be in two groups that cater to my area, but local news sources and postings can let you know what is in your area. There may even be smaller groups that you rarely hear about looking for fresh talent! I found my community theatre family pretty much by accident: they rehearse in the same community center where I was taking dance classes. If you know people who perform, ask them where. If you’re a student, look for your school’s program. Find out which shows these groups are doing, and check when they rehearse. What’s the cast size? Can you be at rehearsals? If it looks like you’d be able to be in this show, audition!


What do I do to get ready for auditions?

The first thing I like to do when considering auditioning for a show is research. Who wrote the show? What is the basic story? What style of music is it? Are there any characters you’d like to play? I tend to accidentally memorize shows, but general familiarity will be your best friend. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into (a girl quit a Guys and Dolls production I was in because she suddenly discovered it could be a little sexist), and this will also give you a baseline for your audition. The audition description will tell you if you need to prepare a monologue, a song, or anything else. Monologues should fit the tone and time period of the show you’re auditioning for. Pick a song that you know you can sing well no matter what condition your voice is in. I personally don’t recommend a song you don’t know too well, but also try to avoid cliché audition songs (that’s a whole other article, ask theatre friends and/or Google if you aren’t sure). The song should ideally be in the style of the show, so do a pop song for a pop show, a classical song for a classical show, etc. Be sure to have sheet music, or a karaoke track, or whatever else they might say you need to supply. Plan out an audition outfit (again, a whole other article), and make sure it’s not too specific and you can move in it.


What do I do once I get to auditions?

Show up a little early so you can fill out any forms, turn in sheet music, whatever you need to do before you get up and sing. As you fill out the form, be honest about any conflicts so they can make a rehearsal schedule. If they ask if you want a specific role, put it down. Since you’re just starting out, I highly suggest putting that you’d be willing to play any role and that you’ll take an ensemble role. Ensemble is a great place to start, and directors often like to see that you’re not just here for the one role you specifically auditioned for. After you turn in the form, you’ll usually be singing. You might sing in front of just those casting, you might be in a small group, or you might be singing in front of everybody. If you have an accompanist (pianist), let them know what sections you’re singing and the tempo you’d like to sing it at. You might be asked to introduce yourself, usually by giving your name and the song you’re singing. As you sing, try to act while you perform your song. If it’s a happy song, show that you’re happy, if it’s sad, be sad-- you get the idea. Once everyone has sung, you may be asked to dance a little, or to do “cold reads” from the script (perform a scene with little to no practice time). Take whatever they throw at you and give it 100% effort. You might get called back, you might not, but make sure they’ve seen that you can do a lot with whatever you’re given.


What happens after auditions?

The cast can be announced in a number of ways. You might receive a phone call or an email, there could be a website, a Facebook page might be set up, etc. A lot of groups may ask that you respond to accept or decline a role (I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be prompt in responding).You’ll likely receive a date for a read-through and a rehearsal schedule, which you’ll want to put in your calendar as soon as possible. You’ll receive either a separate script and score or a full libretto. You’ll want to check and ask if you can use highlighters or if it’s pencils only for marking it. GUARD YOUR SCRIPT. Bare minimum, write your name in the front cover so people know it’s yours. Script thieves are everywhere, and your name in it means you can get it back.


What should I do in rehearsals?

Up until tech week, rehearsals will be just about learning and perfecting the material. You may or may not be rehearsing in the space you’re performing in. You’ll take this time to learn music, dances, and any lines or blocking you’ll need to know. Show up to rehearsal on-time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Your fellow actors, your director, and especially your stage manager are all there to help and support you. Write notes for blocking (movement while acting), choreography, and music so you don’t forget them. If someone asks a question about costumes, shoes, hair, or makeup, listen for the answer (and I’ll tell you more later).


What’s this “tech week” people talk about all the time?

“Tech week” is the last week of rehearsals before the show opens. It’s dedicated to incorporating the technical elements into the show, hence “tech week.” You’ll be in the performance space, and these will be the longest rehearsals you’ll ever experience. You’ll likely be called earlier and kept later. In addition to technical elements (lights, sound effects, microphones, etcetera), your show’s band/orchestra will appear (if there is one) and you’ll be in costume with hair and makeup done. These rehearsals are meant to perfect runs of the show so it’s ready by opening. You’ll likely get notes each night, and you’ll want to write these down and implement them. Everybody will be stressed and tired, so make sure to take care of yourself and have patience. Maybe give something nice to your stage manager so they don’t go insane.


You keep talking about costumes, hair, and makeup. What do I need to do for that?

Each theatre group is different. You might be supplying your own costume, or they might have them for you. You should learn what you need to supply from the production team, but don’t be afraid to ask. As a good base, it might be wise to invest in character shoes if you play lady roles, black dress shoes if you play man roles, and jazz shoes either way. Each production has different visions, but these shoes usually work no matter what time period you’re in. As for hair, you might be doing your own or someone might be doing it for you. This depends on the group. If you are doing it yourself, ask for what it should look like for the show. Wigs might be involved depending on the show.


Now, makeup. I know some groups will have other people doing your makeup, but I’ve always done it for myself. If you are doing it yourself, everybody has their own preferences for how they do it. Some shows will require bright colors or wrinkles or something drastic, but a lot of shows are fairly simple. My advice: Your face, but bigger. I recommend foundation to even out your skin, concealer for under your eyes, blush to give you some color, and eyeliner & mascara to bring your eyes out. If you’re an eyeshadow and lipstick person, use nude browns on the eyes and pick a lipstick that looks natural (unless this is a time period where red was the color of choice). Apply a little more of everything than you would for every day. The whole purpose of stage makeup is to ensure your face looks good from the back row of the theatre. Ask your castmates for help if you’re not sure how much is too much.


What should I expect from performances?

Things will go right, and things will go wrong. The whole atmosphere of a show is different when there is an audience there with you. The important thing is to not add things once the show opens. You’ll be tempted to push for laughs or try something new, but don’t do it. Make sure you’re paying attention to the show so you don’t miss your cues. Enjoy the applause and feed off the audience to keep your energy up. There is nothing more thrilling than performing for a great audience. You’ll likely get to greet the audience after curtain call, so take that opportunity to thank everyone who came to see you.


What happens when the show ends?

A lot of groups need help striking the show after, so be sure to stay and help with that. There will likely be a cast party that you should definitely attend. You’ll probably be sad, and your time will feel a lot emptier without rehearsals in there. But that just means you can look forward to the next show! Not many people can stop after just one.


I hope you’ll find your home in the theatre. It has been the best family I could ever ask for, and it really will fill you with a joy that nothing else can create. Welcome home! We're glad to have you!

To the Unrecognized Theatre Workers

SarahLynn Mangan
A thank you letter to all those not recognized or hardly recognized for their work in the theater. Many times, the people who get the least thanks are those who do the most.

To the costumers to dressers to set builders to painters, to the stage managers and their tech-operators and their running crews, thank you. To the casting directors to the choreographers to the dance captains, thank you. To the laundromats to the wigmakers to the curtain cleaners, thank you. To the conductor to the pit to the assistant music directors, thank you. To the people who came up with the original vision of the production to the ones who decided to take a chance on it, thank you. To the marketers to the poster making companies to the web design fanatics, thank you. To the ushers to the program folders to the kiosk tenders, thank you. To the house manager to the production manager to the assistant stage manager to the interns to the box office manager, thank you.

 Thank you for creating theatre and always being willing to sacrifice your time, your energy and frankly your sanity to put on a wonderful show that is reflected through the actors on stage.

 Actors are consistently receiving flowers, food, and praise for their performances and connection with the audience, but I believe that the most praise should go to you people and even all the people I didn’t list. The actors would not be receiving this praise if it was not for you.

 I know you know this and you say it in your own head before the curtain opens or whenever someone gets hissy at you asking “Well what did you even do for this show?” but I am going to recognize it anyway, here in writing.

 For many of you on this list, your talents could be used in many different areas in the world, but you choose to spend them on something that can truly make an impact on either the teenagers seeing their first show or the elders seeing their last. Without you willing to spend a fraction of your talent in this industry, actors would not have anything to work for.

 Thank you for putting up with stuck up actors and people who really have no idea what your job entails but still being willing to continue to work with them.

 From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.


 Now for those actors who don’t always say thank you to the costumer every time they repair your costume or your dresser who helps you during the fastest quick change of your life, start thanking them. For those who don’t come in early to see what they can help with during tech week whether that being painting the set, sewing some hems, or even folding some programs, start doing that. For those who might have some extra cash to order an underappreciated crew member some coffee or a donut, start doing that. Start taking the time to really appreciate the people who help your job run smoothly, cause without them, you would be naked in an empty theatre with no lights on except for the ghost light.

Finally, for those audience members who get grumpy at the house manager or ushers when you arrive late and can’t be seated, take a deep breath and relish in the fact that you have made it to a theatre where all your troubles are supposed to melt away. For those who never shake the hands of the orchestra or stay until the end of the exit music, start doing so because they tend to do more work than the actors on stage, and applause for them after the exit music. For those who stare at the crew when you see them for a quick second in confusion for wearing all black, ask them what they did for the show and congratulate them on a smooth show. For those who aren’t patient with the box office start doing so and maybe they can figure out how the dates on your tickets were actually for a week ago instead of tonight.

 If everyone took the time to thank the people we don’t think of when we think of theatre production, everyone would have a grander time at the most amazing place in the world, the stage.

An Ode to the Small Theatres

Jonathan Fong
Here’s an ode to the smaller ones among us.

Here’s to the actors who toil away in closet-sized rehearsal spaces, warm up in public bathrooms, and stretch on odd tables and benches. To the leading lady bursting with excitement to be let loose, even if only on a makeshift ‘stage’ that’s actually a cornered off part of the gym. To the boy cast in his first show, frantically going over each of his ten lines to make sure he nails each and every one of them.

Here’s to the artists who have to make do. Here’s to the painters who paint masterpieces of backdrops with dollar-store paint and decade-old brushes because they don’t have anything left in the budget to use. Here’s to the prop designers who stuff old top hats with underwear to make them stand and painstakingly tape together broken props that just need to last one more show five minutes before curtain. Here’s to the costumers who play Dr. Frankenstein each time a new show’s put on, mixing and matching costume parts and hats and wigs to make something that, in the end, surprisingly looks like it might actually be right.

Here’s to the crew, scurrying about and coordinating with runners and messengers because they can’t afford radios. Here’s to the volunteer stagehands dressed in varying assortments of black, grey, and the odd white sock from the newbie on their first production who didn’t know they were supposed to wear all black for a reason. Here’s to the stage managers, clipboards filled with unintelligible scribbles and minds filled with unintelligible cues they have to call right. Here’s to lighting, to SFX, to the technicians using decade-old mixers and forever entangled rigging, braiding old cables and wires if only to make do for opening.

And here’s to the director, hair in a constant frazzle from telling people where to go and what to do while himself trying to juggle his brilliant creative direction with the demands and limits of what he has now. Here’s to the choreographer struggling to teach the 10-year-olds in the ensemble how to do the finale song’s choreo the night before opening. Here’s to the friends, the family, those loved ones who inevitably come to support all this controlled madness on opening and closing night (sometimes, the same night). Because one day, maybe all of these people might move on, graduate to bigger and better productions, command Broadway stages and garner appreciation, while the next generation fills their place in the wings, waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s to the small theatres and what they bring us all.

An Open Letter: Highschool Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I thought long and hard about what to write about this week, like I have had no inspiration for anything unique but I was scheduled in so there was no escape. I really wasn't sure what to write about, and then I competed in a band competition at school. A few weeks before that I took part in our school production of Sweeney Todd and I realized something:

School theatre is toxic. 

It's such a nasty environment for young people to grow up in because people are never fully honest.

So here's my open letter, to all the people who tell you to stop being yourself when you do school theatre.

It starts as a little complaint, they tell you to tone it down a bit. Maybe in a jokey way. Then you start seeing scowls behind backs, whispers. They insult you to your face because you're showing them up. A 'flamboyant' personality becomes a threat, and you hear whispers in the Green Room about how someone else deserves that part, or someone else would be better.

I know, I've been one of those whisperers, and I've been one who's been whispered at. But why are we so afraid of simply supporting each other?

And this is why I raise my right finger - because it's taken me a long time to build up my self-confidence to the point where I can make myself look like a fool on stage all for the sake of a show. It has also taken me a long time to realize that the people who were given the parts which I complained about were chosen for a reason, teachers don't simply pick names out of a hat, and it doesn't make sense to question their choices - after they've directed around 20 plays at your school. So, when you call someone 'embarrassing' because they dance about and have fun, remember there is a person on the other end of that line, who was chosen for a specific reason and who has worked their butt off to try and get up there.

I need to remember that too. Because so many have it ingrained in us that other actors are competition, you can't work harmoniously with someone who gets a better part than you, but instead we just need to own it. We need to own our parts, our stories, our fun.

Of course, it feels like such a lie, that the ensemble is just as important as the lead, but ensemble simply means you fit into the puzzle in a different way. You're allowed to go for it, you're allowed to own your role even if you're Villager #24. You just have to raise your right finger, and solemnly swear:

That whatever they say about you, you don’t care.


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!











Don't Tony Worship

Jonathan Fong

In light of the recent Tony Awards, I just thought I’d write something that has been on my mind for a while. I’ve seen this happening a lot, in both community and professional theatre, and I thought it should be addressed

No, it’s not about people judging whether what won should’ve won. There has been enough debate about The Band’s Visit winning everything already, as there always has been and will be when a show sweeps the Tonys, and I’m not going to open that can of worms. In fact, what I’m going to talk about isn’t really something specific to this year nor any year in the past.
I’m going to talk about something else. I call it Tony worship. No, I’m not talking about those who have shrines to Tony from West Side Story in their rooms. I neither confirm nor deny the presence of one in mine. I’m talking about people treating the Tony Awards, and everything associated with or related to them, as the entirety of theatre itself.

Every year, I see dozens of small-scale productions, some community/amateur and some professional, of musicals mimic the Tony-winning set or costume designs of that musical’s original Broadway production. Every year I see other productions attempt to copy the original choreography, with varying degrees of success, of the original Broadway production. Every year, I see, whether online or in person, dozens of performances of the same songs from the musical theatre canon sung in the exact same way - intonation, tone, delivery, you name it. 
And every year, when I ask the person in charge of set design or the performer why, they say the same variations of the same thing - ‘(insert-famous-theatre-person-here) did it and won a Tony for it’.

Let’s ignore for a second the copyright issues which come with copying things such as set designs or costume designs (you don’t get the rights to copy a production’s set design when you get the rights to a musical, in case you were unaware). Let’s also ignore the real risk of doing things like mimicking an actor’s vocal tone in a song without proper vocal training to do so, which can actually do harm to your voice.

Thing is, yes, they won a Tony for it. But do the Tonys define theatre? Do they define your production and what direction it should take? Do they define you as an actor?
Sutton Foster, Patti LuPone, Idina Menzel - they’re all incredibly talented actors. No one’s doubting that Andy Blankenbuehler or Christopher Gattelli are wonderful choreographers, neither is anyone doubting the amazing designs of David Zinn or Mimi Lien. They’re all clearly good at what they do and the fact that they won Tonys for their work is proof of that. But at the end of the day, what they did was take the material given to them - librettos, plot synopses, the like - and interpreted and developed it in their own unique ways. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what everyone’s supposed to do?

As actors, choreographers, directors, designers, or whatever role you might have in the theatre, isn’t it our job to make our own interpretations of what we’re given? To creatively stretch the boundaries and go beyond the text or the libretto? Why are we defining what we should do by what others have done, and not the limits of our own creativity? Why are we copying other’s creative work just to feel secure in what we do?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t seek inspiration in any way from other sources. Inspiration from others is one of the most valuable things you can get in the arts - it can offer insights you might have never otherwise considered. And I most certainly would be lying if I said I’d never looked at what other artists have done as guidance.

But please, for crying out loud, don’t just copy Sutton Foster’s Tony-winning performance in Anything Goes for your recital, or the minimalist set design of the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd (yes, that actually happened) for your local community theatre production of the show. Don’t just sing Defying Gravity ‘that way’ because ‘Idina Menzel did it’, and don’t light the stage or design your props ‘that way’ because ‘that Broadway show did it and won a Tony’. That’s not justification for a creative cop-out. Yes, they won a Tony for it, but they won it not for copying what someone else did, but because what they did was original and creative.
Be creative. Be brave. Be theatrical. Stretch the boundaries; don’t be content with being ‘safe’ with what others have successfully done. Make your work as an artist unique and your own, not a mere imitation of what someone won a Tony for.
Don’t let the Tonys alone define what theatre is for you.

The "other" Tony Awards

Award season is officially over. Starting in early April with the Lucille Lortel nominations announced on April 3rd, and ending with the 72nd Tony Awards on June 10th, what an interesting season it has been. However, I’m not here to talk about what happened last night at the Tony awards cause honestly, I am not the person to give that review of what happened, and I am writing this before they occur and only wish I could predict the future. Because of this, I am going to talk about the importance and impact of the second most important award season to a seventeen-year-old high schooler…

Photo by blanaru/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by blanaru/iStock / Getty Images

The high school musical theatre awards!
I have been so fortunate to go to a high school that has been involved in these awards that take place all around the country, just to celebrate what young people are doing in the theatre scene. I am going to talk about all the great experiences I have gained by participating in these awards as a member of a nominated production, and why every high schooler should have the opportunity to at least go to these awards as an audience member.

The first time I went to my region’s award ceremony, I was there all day. My older sister was in the opening number, so I didn’t go to it already in costume and prepared to represent my show. This was the case for many other people there, and because the theatre didn’t have enough dressing room to accommodate hundreds of students getting changed at the same time, we all had to walk over to a public outdoor park and use the restrooms there to get ready. This created the ability to learn about what shows people were doing, who they were playing, their background with theatre, and so much more. It was truly amazing to see people just getting to really connect on a more personal level because of theatre.

A few months ago, I was at a college audition and I met people there who I was able to talk about what happened at the awards ceremony and the performances we got to experience, and I knew of them because of this wonderful occasion.

 Gain Knowledge of other Musicals
Many high schoolers are having their first experience with musicals during their years at high school, and so they have limited knowledge about shows other than the ones they have performed in. At the ceremony, you get to see wonderful shows perform a number, wonderful soloists perform a medley of multiple musicals, and it allows people who have a very small pool of knowledge grow. Many people would ask me what the shows were about due to the songs being performed, and then would want to go and listen to them and get to know them better. It is amazing to see someone discover a new musical.

Gain Performance Experience
I have been so fortunate to be able to be a part of a production which was nominated for Best Musical, which gave my entire cast the opportunity to perform in front of 2,000 theatre lovers. People still talk about what it felt like to get a standing ovation from that size of a crowd and know that they had touched some people’s hearts that day. Even people who were in the audience still talk about it. This sort of performance experience, if you’re so lucky to get to have, can make such an impact on a high schooler’s life, that it may even change their course of life. It is truly remarkable.

These are just a few of the amazing things that a student, or anyone, can get from attending or being a part of the “Tony Awards for High Schoolers.” Put aside the competition part and look to see the impact that it is putting on real people who still can take these opportunities. Many people want to get rid of these programs because it creates some tension between the schools that win and don’t win, but I say let them stay for the impact that it allows the students to have.





Remembering Gary

I was at my former high school’s annual school play the other night and memories came flooding back of the shows I did in high school. And, of course, when you think of previous shows you did, you might remember your directors and those who helped put on those shows.       

When I think back to my shows, one person in particular stands out. That person would be Gary.

In grade ten, I wasn’t even considering joining my school’s drama program. I didn’t have anything against the program, a lot of my friends were in it, I just didn’t think it was for me. However, the theatre program was putting on “The Very Great Grandson of Sherlock Holmes”, a hilarious parody on Sherlock Holmes where his grandson is a bumbling idiot.

This show needed a butler and, being my teacher, Gary knew me somewhat well and thought I fit the role very well. The Butler was a character who had every line come out witty, sarcastic, and sharp.

After some thinking, I decided to go for it. I thought the drama program would be “something fun to do.” I did not realize how much it would mean to me throughout the rest of my high school life.

Since I was the only one going directly for The Butler, I got it. However, Gary was right and I fit the role very well -- the snappy comebacks, the hilarious one liners, and the dripping sarcasm is exactly my type of humour. The production was a success and I was hooked on the drama program.       

Me as the Butler

Me as the Butler

I went on to play in two more shows under the direction of Gary. I was Mr. Drysdale in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and Professor Dante in “Get Smart.”

He was also a teacher for a good chunk of my classes from grades 7-10. Sure, he had his fair share of students that didn’t like him but he developed a very strong bond with a lot of his students, and a lot of the grades below me especially came to really like him.

The year after I graduated, which was 2013, Gary moved away to teach at another school. Many of his students were saddened -- he had not only been an amazing teacher, but also even a friend to his students. He had visited a former student when he was in the hospital, and just had a general love for all his students, both current and former.

It was late March of 2015 when he started to have some health concerns, he had something from when he was younger that had never caused issues until that point.

In the coming weeks, he would be admitted to hospital. On April 15, he passed.

The students from school were devastated. I heard from younger students and friends with younger siblings what a weird and scary day of school that was. The halls were eerily silent and people were crying. There was an outpouring of love and support for his mother and fiancé in the coming days and the students and teachers watched a livestream of his memorial service in the gymnasium.

Being at my old high school’s play brought back these memories, and it was there that I realized that not only had it been three years but I missed the actual date. I’m so glad I was reminded of this yet again.

Gary drew me into the school’s theatre program. He was a great director, teacher, and an all-around great person who was easy to connect to. He is still greatly missed by many.