We went back to Lincoln, NE for another round of the Annual International Thespian Festival.
Mr. Schaefer and 4 students from Webster Groves High School Troupe 191 attended. All of the students participated in the events the conference has to offer. They took workshops, competed, showcased design work, auditioned for colleges and scholarships, danced and saw as many shows as time would allow. We drove a minivan up to the Festival, and it took about 7 hours to get there.
The students that attended the 2015 Conference were:
Emily Jackoway (class of 2015) - (IE Duet Acting and Scholarship Auditions)
Jonah Schnell (class of 2016) - (College Auditions- Lighting/ Designing a playwork/ MO State Rep)
Justin Comegys (class of 2016) - (IE Duet Acting and College Auditions)
Kate Arendes (class of 2016)m - (College Auditions - Design / IE Set Design / Freestyle playwright)
We left St Louis Monday morning at 8:00am from WGHS and headed northwest through Kansas City and up to NE. We rented a minivan this year and it worked out great. The kids had plenty of room for there stuff and room to spread out a little bit.
Troupe 191 represent'n!!
We arrived around 4:00pm and immediately checked in, got into our fabulous dorm rooms. Jonah had to go to a meeting, so we ate some food and then we headed to our first show. We watched our first show at the KIMBALL Theater (The Smaller Main Stage Theater). The show was called Dear America and it was a devised work the director had staged and edited within the last 25 or so years. It had been to conference several times before. We never got to talk with her specifically about the piece. We only ran into a few of the students who had performed in the piece.
The KIMBALL Entrance and interior.
The space seats around 400 and has a balcony. The sound is usually pretty good and it has a full lighting system. They don't have a fly gallery on stage.
After our first KIMBALL show ended we took an hour off, went to the store for some items we forgot to pack, and then we headed to the LIED Theater to see the Festival kick off event.
Jonah, Justin and Kate in front of the Lied marquee
The LIED Theater was for the big productions at festival. Throughout the year it brings in some really big touring shows to the Lincoln residence. This is Lincoln's Broadway House. It has tours come through and some really big acts. Tony Bennet was going to be there soon. It is also home base of operations at the festival. (Check in, tickets, fundraising, college reps, store...etc.) It is a beautiful building inside and out.
An evening depiction of the theater from campus
The 2nd floor lobby and house left entrance
It was produced on the Lied Theater Stage.
This show was a tribute to Alan Menken (unfortunately he was unable to attend). http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0579678/
Kevin Kline also donated some time to the show. The concert opened with him delivering the curtain speech about cell phones that was pretty funny.
They had two Broadway actors to headline the evening. One was a five year understudy for Elpheba in Wicked and one was in the current production of Something's Rotten. Basically the show was a musical revue. The cast is made up of high school kids from all over. This show auditions by video earlier in the school year. The students chosen are usually good Broadway style singers who also move well, and the production always runs the first night of conference. It's always a night of song and dance with a wonderful band backing them up.
After the show we headed back to the dorms to collapse and sleep. (lights out at 1:00am)
Most mornings start around 7:30 or 8:00am (usually closer 8:30 as the week goes on)
We had breakfast together as much as much as possible, but sometimes it was tough to get everyone at the table. We were assigned to eat in the Abel dorm cafeteria. The meal time also allowed for some interaction with other troupes and people from all over the country. We loved chatting it up with whoever would listen to us. Most importantly we had ice cream cones at the end of every meal.
Emily just couldn't convince the rest of us to join her in her selfie...
We had college auditions and IE's (individual events) which took up a portion of the day. Justin and Emily participated in these two activities. Jonah and Kate were working on getting there stuff ready for Wed.
To kill some time in the afternoon, Mr. Schaefer and Kate watched some of the Duet Musical IE's in the Howell Theater. They were really good. Jonah hit a couple of the LED Lighting workshops to try and get some info to bring back to our theater at WGHS.
Everyone has to wear a lanyard with their info on it the whole time. It is your ticket into all of the events and activities. The festival is very much on top of the people who are involved in our festival.
Blue means you are student and red means you are a sponsor/director. The festival is broken into two tracks. The color paper in your lanyard was either yellow or blue. That color told you what schedule you followed. All of the main stage shows/ workshops and auditions followed a color code too. Once we got used to the way it was split it made for smooth planning.
Emily Jackoway and Justin Comegys performed their DUET Scene from Rumors for the NIES competition (individual events). This was the piece they performed at our State Conference in KC in Jan where they were selected to attended Nationals because of their high scores.
They knew this scene like the back of their hand and gave a great performance for the judges.
To see a montage of our performance at WGHS visit
It was held in a classroom in the Kauffman building in front of three judges. They had the audience laughing many times. There were around 1200 IE performances at the conference which is the most ever seen. Lots of competition, they did great, but they didn't advance to the IE showcase.
The Fountain and the Kauffman Building
Emily Jackoway had another audition on Tuesday. She performed for the ITF judges to compete for the college scholarships. She performed two contrasting pieces, and the judges really liked her performance and selections. She performed a piece from Dog Sees God and a piece called The Woolgatherer. They offered her another shot in a callback on Wed.
That afternoon everyone but Emily (she was exhausted) attended a wonderful production of White Christmas that was brought to the festival by a NE high school.
They even made it snow on stage in the last number!
We came to find out by talking with cast members that the show cost over $60,000 to produce and travel to ITF. That is a lot of money, but they spent it well and the audiences loved it!
That evening we skipped the main stage show and decided to hit a couple of the Chapter Select one acts. These are 50 minutes slots in the Howell Theater.
They had a cutting of the play ART that was interesting. They cast the show with three woman and the play is originally done with men. It added a new twist on the story and the cast did a nice job with the show. We felt some of the actors were stronger than others. The show is a lot of talking and discussion about friendship and the painting one of them had purchased. They handled the dialogue well and kept it moving. The space has very low tech available and this play could have used some creative design.
We stayed for the second play too, Emily and Kate insisted. (Of course - it had to do with Shakespeare) It turned out to be a really fun little puppet show. They took the play within a play from Midsummer and played it out on it's own. It was only about 15 minutes long. The puppeteers wore all black and the puppets looked like they were pulled directly from Sesame Street.
The cast did a wonderful job with the puppets. It was funny and very charming!
After the second show we went back the dorms and collapsed!
This was a very busy day as well.
First Kate Arendes had her Tech IE and had 10 minutes to explain her designs for Rumors to the judges. This was very similar to our State Conference IE, but she had the opportunity to tweek the design and practice a bit more. She was very organized and she did great.
Kate designed her our set for Rumors and had designs for a t-shirt and poster as well
Justin Comegys had his college auditions, and performed two contrasting pieces. Emily hit workshops, Kate and Jonah got their stuff together to prepare for college auditions. Mr. Schaefer and Kate hit Kinko's for some last minute copying and pasting. The events were all over campus. We all tried to make sure we stayed calm, we used the minivan to haul everything, and tried our best to get to a cafeteria to eat our meals. Even with all of the events, we still managed to see a few shows in between.
College Tech Auditions/Interviews
Jonah Schnell (Lighting Design) wows the college admission reps with his awesome display of plots, schedules and pictures and renderings. He shows off his original lighting design work from our productions of Rumors, 10 Ways To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse, and our 2015 Broadway Revue. He used video, photos, and had lots to share with them. They only had 5 minutes with each rep, so he had to talk really fast. They did this for 5 hours. They did have breaks without a rep, but it tested their endurance. Overall, the schools were impressed with his work. He showed passion and leadership. They gave him tons of feedback, and in the end 15 universities/colleges/conservatories were trying to recruit him for their programs.
Kate Arendes (Production Design/PR Marketing) showed her diversity and hit a high note with the reps! She also received a staggering amount of callbacks to talk with the admission reps further. Her display and ability to talk about her work showed them instantly her extreme level of passion in the field of theater and design. She does a little bit of everything in our department, demonstrates solid leadership skills and always creates detailed work. She showed a display board of designs for her original set and t-shirt design for Rumors, a props/costume/backdrop design from class for Jack and Beanstalk, poster and t-shirt design for Angels in America and two scripts she had written and directed.
Kate talking to a college rep
Jonah's display, and he is looking sharp for the interviews!
The room was packed full of kids, it was loud, and it was like speed-dating... the reps moved every 5 minutes and started a whole new conversation with a new student each time.
They all had to be tired by the end.
In the middle of the day on Wed we also had a performance of our own. Kate Arendes had written a one act that had been selected to be performed at nationals and we got the opportunity to use the Johnny Carson Studio space for a run of the piece. We brought a box with a few props and costumes, and we had to use some furniture that they provided (A desk and two chairs). The lighting was simple and we were lucky to have Nick Wylie (who came up with his dad from Webster U) with us to help with tech in the theater. He ran the booth for the show. It was tough to get a big crowd, but we had a very appreciative audience and the experience was well worth it. Kate got to see her script performed on stage again.
"Apolla Ikon - Intergalactic Stateswoman" by Kate Arendes
(Poster Design by Kate Arendes/Costumes by Mr. Schaefer)
Justin, Kate and Emily outside of the theater
We did perform the piece before we left and if you'd like to watch the play it is on YouTube. Follow the link below.
We unfortunately didn't get tickets for the afternoon main stage in the Kimball. We would have liked to have seen Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers but the Kimball theater tickets had to be picked up in advance early in the morning and so we missed it (we know now for next time). Mr. Schaefer did get up early and got tickets for the Thurs and Fri Kimball shows.
The production was funny, well staged and had a great cast. The musical is a parody of the movie from the early 80's and the cast had the style of the piece down pat. The production was staged with a minimal set, but the lighting and costumes gave the flashy feel the story needed. They sang it well, they danced, and the entire cast played each character with gusto!
The cast was small and had some doubled roles, but even with a smaller cast the show seemed to really fill the big stage. The rollerskating was great (and we learned none of them really knew how before they started working on the show). We loved the glow sticks they handed out at intermission. It turned the theater into a party!
The entire audience whirled glow sticks during the second act and during the curtain call. You would have thought it would have been distracting, but it just made the show end like we all were at a very killer 80's party!
This is a show we want to do with our department now.
After the show, we were all hyped up. We did a quick round of roses and thorns. Then a couple went to the dance, but some went back and collapsed in their beds.
We got to take it a bit easier today. We had some breakfast and immediately got started.
At 10:00am we kicked off the Festivals Got Talent showcase in the Johnny Carson Studio with an original rap Kate Arendes wrote about the fabulous Meryl Streep (it was her birthday that Monday and she had a rap she had been writing for a while and decided to finish it for this event) Kate rapped, Justin kept the beat, and Emily provided the hook. They had fun and the audience thought it was funny. Justin set the beat a bit fast and Kate scrambled to keep up. It was a really fun showcase of talent. Lots of variety. They had singers, comedians, monologues, groups and everyone got 5 minutes to show off. The audience at the talent show had a ball.
After that we got to attend some workshops and talk with some college reps.
Emily attended a great workshop on an acting technique called "Viewpoints". It was a really great workshop with a strategy for finding truth in performance based on Anne Bogart's lesson.
Justin attended a workshop for acting that used a method called "Rasa Boxes" that we teach sometimes in our drama classes.
We all met back up for the afternoon main stage.
Big Fish the musical was staged at the Lied Theater, and it was fabulous. They had some minor mic issues at the start, but once they got rolling the story unfolded beautifully. The cast was very strong and the singing was spectacular. Their leading actors were all very talented and the story is an epic tale that leads the audience to a tearful ending.
The production was brought to conference by a school in Virginia and they did some wonderful things with the tech. They had a character on stilts, period costumes, big set pieces that seemed to move on their own, lots of projections framing the action to keep the setting clear, some moving lights, fabric for water effects (with flying fish), a fabulous full stage drop covered in daffodils, and various circus acts that they used in one of the scenes. It was very well directed and the show was a hit!
We left the theater moved, and went to the cafeteria to have dinner and talk about the show. We did "Roses and Thorns" in the car on the way. Everyone had lots of good things to say. Jonah always wanted more lighting.
Everyone was starting to feel a bit tired by this point, and we didn't attend any other shows on Friday. However, some of us attended one of the evening workshop offerings that night.
Mr. Schaefer and Jonah went to a very interesting puppet workshop that allowed the students to practice the art of puppet manipulation. We played around with voicing, character, arms, mouth, and style. The workshop was held in a room that had a full mirror along a very long wall. The 20 or so students in the workshop were all given a puppet to play with in the mirror. We were asked to create a name, an occupation, and a super power for the puppet character.Then we did some improv with the puppets, and we lip-synced to some popular songs he played. It was a really great way to learn and we got to watch everyone's work in the mirror.
The instructor was very knowledgeable and gave some great advice. He had obviously been doing this for a very long time. He kind of looked like Charles Nelson Reilly (which he didn't take as a compliment).
After that a few of us went to the dance, and some of us went to bed.
We all woke up and couldn't believe it was already Friday. The week was flying by and the conference was almost over. We didn't waste any time. We had breakfast and immediately hit the day running. Kate, Justin and Jonah had to see as many college reps as they could cause most would be leaving today. The stopped by their booths and gathered as much info as they could.
We also hit some workshops today.
Kate, Emily and Mr. Schaefer attended a wonderful voice over workshop in the Kauffman Building taught by the wonderful Susie Wall (http://www.susiewall.biz/). The room was packed. Susie is a union (SAG/AFTRA) actress from St Louis that does a lot of voice over work around the country and her workshop was fabulous.
She played her own industrial reel as example. It was a really solid reel of her work and it showed the professional quality that is expected in this industry. She also had some kids in the room do some live recording on a mic and then she played the samples back for critique. Some got to take second attempts to see if they could get the character/interp and articulation better.
Emily Jackoway was selected to read an industrial commercial
that forced her to do the piece extremely fast and with extreme clarity.
She did GREAT!
We tried to get a script selected for the Playworks project at festival, but we didn't make the final cut. Lots of submissions. Jonah Schnell did however get to work tech on one of the pieces. It was called It's Gonna Rain by Matthew Waelterman. It was a short one act about relationships and college. It was staged in a small music recital hall, but he did get to design a plot for the lighting, and he engineered the sound for the reading. He also ran the tech for their show.
It went great, and the audience even stayed for a quick talk-back with the author. We felt that the play needed some work, had some structural issues and plot device problems, but the event is similar to our one act festival and it is nice to see original work staged. It's a good opportunity for young actors to originate a role, and work with a different adult director than they are used to. The writers also get to revises their work during the conference. All of the work is done as a staged reading.
A map of the University of NE Lincoln campus
There was a lot to see on the school grounds as well. Lots of construction, new buildings on campus and in the town square. This place is growing every time we come up here for this festival. The area is rather spread out, but never feels too vast.
It has a wonderful inclusion of nature all throughout the campus and we picked a good week, all of the plant life was bursting green and the flowers were in bloom.
The Lied (center) looking from downtown Lincoln
Some of our students visited the cool art museum on campus. Kate found some time to explore on one of the days. She wandered in an around the exhibits and said they were very interesting. A great place to find inspiration.
The Sheldon Art Museum
Justin also explored the grounds and said he looked at a bunch of the sculptures hidden all over the campus grounds. Some are really big, some are very abstract and some are just fun!
Justin playing around with one of the sculptures outside.
At 2:30pm Jonah and Mr. Schaefer hit a Chapter Select play in the Howell called Shades.
At 3:00pm we had to hurry over to the KIMBALL for the production of The Addams Family our afternoon main stage show.
The production was one of the lower budget main stage shows at festival and they did a fine job with the material. We really liked the actor playing Gomez, he really stole and carried the show. The other performers were fine, but nobody matched his level of skill and so it made the rest of their faults more apparent. The other notable performances came from the boyfriend's mother (she was fearless, but just couldn't sing as well as she needed to for the role), and the grandma (she was just cute and creepy fun).The other highlight was the ensemble of dead family member ghosts. They supported the songs well, danced and had fabulous costumes that gave us something to look at while the scenes played.
The tech was hit or miss. The set design was lacking. Too much was spent on the framing of the stage and they could have used something center. The projections were nice. They had images for each location, but they were hard to make out sometimes, or they were boring choices for a backdrop. They had moving images in some of the scenes that floated across the whole cyc, but they weren't enough to fill the moment to moment stage picture in the show.
We are glad we get to see shows that didn't have tons to spend, and this school brought a good show for the budget they had. The score is fun and the story is charming. We just felt Wednesday Addams was miscast and we needed her to be a bigger singer. She needed to give us a bit more with her interpretation of the role. Also Uncle Fester, who we felt also didn't put in enough work on character building. Fester wasn't exciting or crazy enough and because he has several songs in the show, the momentum was lost when he took the scene. They are both the other leads next to Gomez and they were both out acted.
After the show we quickly drove to the cafeteria for dinner and then headed back to the Lied for our evening main stage.
We were treated to a wonderful new production called Hello My Baby.
It was a show written and developed with a composer/lyricist and writer from California. She came to their district (made up of 6 high schools) and developed the piece with their students. It was a total throwback to Crazy for You and other shows of that format. This district also brought a whole other main stage show that played the next day. This one was their homage to the classics. It played around with songs and melodies from Gershwin and Berlin. It was extremely fast paced at times, had an amazing ensemble of triple threats, and every piece of music was sung beautifully by the entire cast. They were all extremely talented and their wasn't a weak link in the bunch.
Justin and Jonah waiting for the show to start. We never stayed in our assigned seats. We always moved into the open seats in the orchestra center section. Kate joined us in the front row after intermission, but Emily missed this one. The Edta directors just kept laughing at us for seat hopping, but because we had such a small group it made it easy to move around if needed. We never took anyone's seat if they were there.
Hello My Baby used an elaborate set that created a fake proscenium arch across the stage. It then had a backdrop of doorways that served multiple locations and awnings were flown in to change the doorways into businesses. We were inside the buildings and outside throughout the whole show. They also had little doors that would open up all over the set that actors could pop out of during musical numbers that led to "Laugh In" sort of comedy moments.
Most impressive was the acting style and singing. The arrangements were amazing, the harmonies soared and the singers loved performing the numbers. Several funny bits and great renditions of classic tunes that made you think these kids had been doing this show for decades. Like a lot of the shows in the Lied...they tap danced. Fantastic!
After the show we retreated to the dance or to bed.
We got up and realized instantly that it was last day of activities. The weight of the week was upon us. However it didn't slow us down. Everyone kinda went their own way from the start of the day.
The all either went to workshops, went to see one acts, or tried to track down any last minute college rep callbacks.
Jonah and Mr. Schaefer joined a couple of students from St Francis Borgia HS and we went into the KIMBALL first to help load in the sat Mainstage called Unexpected Tenderness. We helped them build their set and load in their show. It was a great opportunity to pay it forward and work on a show at nationals. That started around 9:00am and then around 10:00am we moved over to the Lied loading dock and joined the cast and crew of the Little Mermaid to help them load-in.
The show came in on a semi the night before so all of the big items and costumes/props had been loaded in the night before (whew!) We were going to help with all of the lighting and fly set up. (curtains, scrim, locking batons down for arial work in the show)
The process was great exposure to the space and our little student crew (some WG theater students and some from St Francis Borgia) joined different teams to help them get something done. Jonah and Tyler worked with lighting. Kate went with the musicians into the pit to set up, and Courtney and I helped with the hanging.
Our little volunteer tech crew at ITF.
Tyler, Kate, Jonah and Courtney
Jonah setting up the cyc lights behind the
background wall for the Lighting designer.
(You can see the ship used in the show...everything was on wheels)
Then we got to take a break and at 3:00pm we saw the show.
This was the very first high school production of Little Mermaid and Disney was a part of the production. They gave money to help them get it to festival and the show was very well done.
The show was produced minimally. Big open stage and just a backdrop wall far upstage that was either the ocean floor or the beach (clever). They used several set pieces that rolled on (the ship, the chef's table, Ariel's hidden treasure room, the under the sea orchestra...etc. They also had circus act work being done on silks and on a Spanish web.
The lighting was very blue, and we had wanted more color differentiation but they never got to cue the show before the run we saw, just not enough time - so they ran it manually which is very impressive. The cool feature for lighting where these massive LED waves that hung across the stage. Each blue wave was on a separate rail and so they flew them in an out for the different scenes to take us under or above the water.
The staging was fun, upbeat, funny and well performed. The costumes and all of the props (fish and sea creature puppets) helped fill the stage for the full group numbers. It was like Lion King under water at times. They ran around, they pretended to swim, and they did a good job showing us underwater movement. They also tapped, which was mostly in Scuttle's number, and that was fun to watch - 10 or so seagulls tap dancing.
Finally we have to mention Ursala. They built a costume for her that had 6 dancers manipulating the tenticles as she moved around the stage. Her costume was fabulous and she sang it great, but we would have liked a cleaner choreography of the tenticles. It just was a missed opportunity. Her two eels Fletsom and Jetsom were great. Ariel sounded just like the movie and King Tritan had a great presence. Prince Eric looked the part and could sing, but his voice seemed tired.
Over all it was a cool experience to be apart of their show.
We left the show. Had some dinner and went to see a short chapter select show called Lockdown.
Then we went to a music revue in the Johnny Carson Studio Theater from a show choir from the West Pacific Islands.They travelled rather far to get here and it was very cool to have them at festival.
They told a little story about two couples finding and falling out love. It was a nice and short revue, but we all agreed they needed microphones cause we had a hard time hearing the soloists.
The favorite moment was their last song which showed off their talent as a group. They sang and danced very well as a group and a couple of them were real stand-outs.
That night we had a dance that everyone but Jonah attended Mr. Schaefer and the MO Sponsors all had to work the door for an hour. It was a "decades" theme and everyone showed up represent'n! WGHS chose the 60's
Kate and Emily went and blew off some steam
Before the night was through Jonah and Mr. Schaefer even came back to the theaters and helped the KIMBALL show take down their set. They were so thankful for the extra hands and it didn't seem like they had a very tool savvy crew, so we got them struck fast.
Then we moved back into the Lied and joined the Little Mermaid strike. Took stuff down and loaded the semi like a real touring crew. Great way to end the week, get the hands dirty a little bit. Jonah was thrilled to add that to his resume.
That rounded out the week. Mr. Schaefer managed to track down and chat with every lead actor in every main stage show we saw...he's good at that, and he got to talk with them about their program, the shows, budget, the talent, future plans, and the schools that brought the shows. It is a tradition he has and by the end of conference he had located all of them (whew!)
Everyone slept good that night.
We all got up, checked out and got on the road by 10:00am. The ride back wasn't bad, but we did hit some weather and we did have some construction that added about an hour onto the trip. In the end it was a great ride. We listened to b-way tunes (A LOT!!!) and we listened to some comedy (dirty business...made Mr. Schaefer blush). It was a great conference and the students are going to take away so much from the experience. We hope to do it again next year. Go Statesmen DRAMA!!!
GO SEE A PLAY!!!
(or a musical)