Taking a statewide stage

Drama students attend State Thespian Festival to improve and perform


Photo courtesy of Marc Longbrake

Freshman Madalynn Johnson sings “Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home” from the musical “Daddy Long Legs” during the mainstage showcase of the State Thespian Festival. Before the event Johnson qualified for a callback and then took part in four rounds of auditions throughout the festival that landed her one of seven spots. “It was a decently long process,” Johnson said. “I went through the call back process and then at the teacher award ceremony it was announced that I would be performing in the final showcase.”

Kaitlin Reynolds, News Director

Millard West drama students in Troupe 5483 started off the new year and third semester with a unique form of course instruction: attending the Nebraska Thespian Festival. 

From Thursday, Jan. 6 to Saturday, Jan. 8, participants stayed in downtown Omaha at the DoubleTree Hotel, and each day they were just steps away from 16 different workshops taught by actors, directors, acting coaches and professors to help them improve in various areas including rendering media, stage makeup, audition etiquette and showing emotion on stage. When they were not attending workshops they were watching schools from across the state perform, competing against other troupes and interacting with professionals in the field of theatre, all while building upon their knowledge of the performing arts.

“I think participating in the festival is just plain inspiring and fun, and not only can they see other theatre but they can network with colleges, professionals and other high school students from around the state,” Nebraska Thespians co-Chapter Director and Millard West drama director Brooke Phillips said. “It helps us grow, learn and feel validated for everything we do.”

One student stood out amongst the hundreds of thespians and competitors present. Following a musical theatre video submission prior to the event, freshman Madalynn Johnson was awarded an International Thespian Excellence award, also known as a “Thespy.” To accompany the award she, along with 149 others, received a callback for a chance to perform in the mainstage showcase that culminates the event. Throughout the State Thespian Festival, Johnson took part in four rounds of auditions to narrow down the final group of performers. She then was chosen alongside six others and took center stage singing “Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home” from the musical “Daddy Long Legs” to end the event on a high note.

“Performing in the showcase was a really big honor,” Johnson said. “There were many amazing artists and I got the opportunity to see what I could possibly do to improve myself based off of them. Being on stage in front of my troupe and a bunch of other State Thespians was such an exciting thing and having so much support from them was amazing.”

At the State Thespian festival, junior Caitlin Schuette competes in an improve challenge alongside junior Kara Cody. Their performance earned them a fourth place finish out of the 16 troupes that they faced. “Before we decided on who would compete on the state improv team, we had an improv show in December that featured the games we would play at the festival,” Schuette said. “This helped us become familiar with the rules and feel of each game.” (Photo courtesy of Marc Longbrake)

Many other competitions were incorporated within the three day festival. The group as a whole submitted an honor troupe binder that included their work from the entirety of the school year which was evaluated and later awarded the title of Gold. Students also participated in an improv challenge where they were required to make up skits on the spot, and their spontaneous performances landed them with a fourth place finish out of the 16 teams that they faced.

“The judges provided us with givens to help us get our improv scenes started,” junior Caitlin Schuette said. “They were about various scenarios ranging from marital conflict to a xylophone store, a trip to Disneyland and even a little kid wreaking havoc in a museum.”

The troupe also took this opportunity of being surrounded by other thespians to share their musical for the year: “Disney’s Descendants.” On Friday, Jan. 7, they ventured to the Holland Performing Arts Center where they were able to perform the show and receive feedback from a knowledgeable audience with fresh eyes.

Junior Elsa Covi performs a Ben’s mother, Belle, in the drama departments musical for the year “Disney’s Descendants.” The group took the show outside of the school auditorium and onto a bigger stage at the State Thespian Festival. “It was exhilarating to perform in front of hundreds of high schoolers in a professional space,” Covi said. “The audience would oohed and awed in between lines and clapped to our closing songs.” (Photo courtesy of Marc Longbrake)

“The audience was much more reactive than the ones we had at school,” junior Kara Cody said. “School audiences usually just laugh at the obviously funny lines, but at State everyone would cheer at things like Maleficent coming back, Jay grabbing the wand or if one of the leads had a really good vocal moment.”

The educational and enriching experience served as an opportunity for those involved to learn from peers who share their passion for the performing arts, and it allowed for them to shine in the spotlight. The drama department’s step outside of the classroom provided them with knowledge and exposure that could only have been gained through this festival full of learning.