Editor's choice

Editor's choice
Phillipa Soo in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 at Ars Nova.

Phillipa Soo lights up Broadway

Originally published in the February/March 2018 issue of Dramatics.

SINCE 2012, Thespian alum Phillipa Soo has originated roles in three Broadway productions — a rare feat in the course of any actor’s career, let alone in a handful of years. Her dizzying journey began just months after she graduated from Juilliard, when she debuted Off-Broadway as Natasha in the world premiere of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 at Ars Nova. The show soon transferred to the custom-built Off-Broadway venue Kazino, where it was seen by directors Thomas Kail and Pam MacKinnon, both of whom began thinking of Soo for new musicals they had in development: Hamilton and Amélie.

In Hamilton: Revolution, writer Lin-Manuel Miranda describes what everyone saw: “Pippa has this sort of elegance and this lit-from-within quality. She’s so poised, and she’s in such control of what she can do, which is kind of amazing for an actor or actress of her age.”

Presenting the Educational Theatre Foundation

Presenting the Educational Theatre Foundation

Originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of Teaching Theatre.

IN A SMALL WEST VIRGINIA TOWN in 1929, Fairmont State College professor Paul Opp, his associate Ernest Bavely, and East Fairmont High School teacher Harry Leeper met to discuss their idea of an honor society for high school theatre students. By 1989, one idea had led to another, namely the Educational Theatre Association, founded to oversee the rapidly growing International Thespian Society and organization for theatre educators.

Now, 88 years after the first Thespian troupe was chartered, EdTA officially launches a philanthropic arm: the Educational Theatre Foundation. The simple, yet monumental idea driving this initiative: to bring quality theatre education to every child. Thanks to the abundant support of its board members and growing momentum of its programming, ETF is already well-poised to make this idea a reality.

The foundation focuses on three key areas: building sustainable musical theatre programs in schools without them; improving school theatre programs through competitive and need-based grants; and nurturing the next generation of theatre educators and artists through individual student grants.

Grace White's costume renderings for Into the Woods earned her a superior ranking in the National Individual Events program at the International Thespian Festival.

Dressing for success

Originally published in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Dramatics.

THESPIAN ALUM GRACE WHITE was in her senior government class when her phone buzzed. An email had arrived, congratulating her and offering a one-of-a-kind summer internship at The Costumer, a bustling costuming company that works on more than 1,000 theatrical productions annually. To celebrate 100 years in the business, The Costumer was inviting one lucky creative Thespian to intern at their headquarters in Schenectady, New York. White was both stunned and thrilled to get the offer. “I totally spazzed out of excitement,” recalls White, formerly of Troupe 6188 at Bothell (Washington) High School. “I couldn’t believe it!” White spent two weeks working at the company’s upstate headquarters and another week in New York City, meeting costumers and observing backstage at Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

Kingwood High School's ruined scene shop about a week after the flood waters brought on by Hurrican Harvey receded.

Thespians helping Thespians

Originally published in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Dramatics.

MATTHEW LOGAN FELT READY for his first year as Kingwood High School’s new theatre teacher. He had selected a season of plays and even begun rehearsing for the year’s opening production. In keeping with Kingwood tradition, students eager to be fully fledged Thespians had earned points toward membership in Troupe 4185 by decorating, painting, andotherwise preparing the school’s theatre spaces for the coming year. But just a week after they put final touches on classroom walls, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas. The Washington Post reported that Harvey unloaded approximately 50 inches of rain — roughly a year’s worth — in a handful of days.

Avoiding acting traps.

Avoiding acting traps

Originally published in the January/February issue of Teaching Theatre.

EVERY CLASSROOM — LIKE EVERY PLAY — is a world with a unique culture and internal logic. That said, young actors share certain struggles no matter the play or school. We developed the following taxonomy of common acting traps, primarily based on teaching theatre in two different environments: an inner-city community college and a four-year conservatory-style B.F.A. program. Certain beginning acting mistakes may be universal, since high school students exhibit these same tendencies. These missteps can become habits that impede storytelling and even defeat the playing of a scene, so they need to be addressed early.

Broadway bound

Broadway Bound

Originally published in the November 2017 issue of Teaching Theatre.

FEW PEOPLE HAVE captured the whirr and din of city life better than songwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green. In “New York, New York,” from the 1944 musical On the Town, they write that Gotham is “a helluva town / The Bronx is up — but the Battery’s down / The people ride in a hole in a groun’.”


Not a hair out of place

Originally published in the September/October 2017 issue of Teaching Theatre.

The world of wigs is complicated but crucial. After all, it’s unlikely that a good wig will garner any attention, but a bad one makes any production look instantly amateur. Whether curly or straight, synthetic or human, these diverse disguises can make or break the costuming of a show. “You can’t just throw a bunch of wigs in a wig closet,” says Allison Lowery, a wig and makeup specialist and co-author of Wig Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre and Film. Caring for the pieces requires delicateness, diligence, and a little bit of love. Not sure how to give those wigs the TLC they need? Don’t wig out. The experts are here to help.


Faith, trust, and pixie dust

Originally published in the September/October 2017 issue of Teaching Theatre.

Director Danielle Miller can’t believe the dead silence coming over her headset at 7:10 p.m. Her spring musical, Peter Pan, was meant to begin 10 minutes ago, but she held the house for a lobby full of frantic latecomers clamoring for tickets to the nearly sold-out performance. Are cast members in place? Why is no one answering?

Dashing backstage, the high school theatre teacher discovers that the tiny 5-year-old girl playing Nana, the Darling family’s canine caregiver, is feeling sick — too sick to perform. The clock is ticking. Quickly, Miller enlists a new Nana: a recent alum of her theatre program. A production assistant on the show throughout rehearsals, the former student knows the part … well enough. Accepting the challenge, the new Nana hastily assembles a workable dog costume from fabric scraps in Miller’s costume closet.

The gift of failure

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Teaching Theatre.

In a classroom at Bowling Green High School in Ohio, a group of theatre design students sat around, fruitless and demoralized. As their teacher, I had tasked them with designing a larger-than-life-size Aslan puppet for our production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As a teacher, I am grateful for moments like these — both the resolution and the dejection that precede it. The course in question introduces students to concepts of theatre design and construction. In an age when digital media provides instant gratification, the experience teaches perseverance by giving students applied challenges with real-life consequences, which often require multiple disappointments before achieving success. The collaborative and hands-on content of this course requires students to take risks, fail, and push through those failures to achieve a cooperative, creative goal.

The ones who dream

Originally published in the May 2017 Dramatics.

The past 12 months have been a dream for songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Their first original musical, Dear Evan Hansen, opened Off-Broadway and won them an Obie Award last May. The show then transferred to Broadway in December, mere days before La La Land opened in wide release. In January, the team received Oscar nominations for two songs from that film, winning an Academy Award for the movie’s signature number, “City of Stars.”

Amid the whirlwind of the past year, the pair also participated in the 2017 Junior Theater Festival West with EdTA’s Junior Thespians this February and in the 2016 International Thespian Festival last June, when Dramatics caught up with the busy duo.

The show must go on

Originally published in the spring 2017 Teaching Theatre.

Creative arts instructors are often the only people tasked with year-round production schedules unique to teaching theatre, in addition to managing personal and family obligations on top of apathetic students, difficult parents, and a laundry list of other day-to-day responsibilities. The pressure can become overwhelming for even the most seasoned educator, and there’s a very real need to look for ways to help teachers avoid burnout by managing critical stress and finding the resources they need to maintain a healthy, energetic approach to shaping future generations of students.

Ready, set, Festival!

Originally published in the February 2017 Dramatics.

The 2017 International Thespian Festival is upon us! Event coordinators anticipate 4,500 delegates at this year’s event, taking place June 19-24 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Festival’s home for more than 20 years. This year's event features 11 main stage performances, 29 Chapter Select Showcase productions, and more than 200 workshops on acting, dialects, stagecraft, costuming, improv, makeup, directing, musical theatre, playwriting, and other theatre-related topics for students and educators.

Perfect pairing

Originally published in the December 2016 Dramatics.

Hailey Brunson never thought a theatre course would lead her to the White House. The course, a partnership between Virginia’s Rock Ridge High School and Richard Bland College, a two-year junior college associated with the College of William and Mary, allows high school students to enroll simultaneously in two different academic programs and educational institutions. If successful, they obtain credit for their work from both schools, offering the opportunity to acquire college credit for work completed while still in high school.

In a heartbeat

Originally published in the April 2016 Dramatics.

What does a neurological disorder have to do with Shakespeare? Kelly Hunter has been working with young people on the autism spectrum for years, developing a series of drama games based on the poetry, feelings, and themes found throughout Shakespeare. Called the Hunter Heartbeat Method, the games are designed to be accessible, enjoyable, and inspiring to children on the spectrum. Four centuries after Shakespeare’s death, Hunter’s work presents new questions about the plays and the characters we’ve known so well for so long: does Shakespeare possess a power that hasn’t been fully tapped? Can the simple rhythm of the language and the potent, uncut emotions coursing through his plays possibly serve as lifelines for those struggling to express themselves?

Find the funny

Originally published in the spring 2016 Teaching Theatre.

In September, comedian Drew Lynch, an alum of Thespian Troupe 5273 at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, was named first runner-up on season ten of America’s Got Talent, just four years after a life-altering accident that nearly crushed his dream of performing. In 2011, Lynch was playing shortstop with a softball team from the comedy club where he was a ticket taker when the batter hit a ground ball that bounced and hit him in the throat. He went home and tried to sleep it off, but woke up with a permanent stutter. Lynch reflected on his journey during his keynote speech at the 2016 EdTA National Conference.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is in the show

Originally published in the March 2016 Dramatics.

At thirty-five, with Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda is at the top of the theatre world after only three Broadway musical credits, following his Tony Award-winning In the Heights and his contributions of music and lyrics to Bring It On. He’s already broken into film, writing cantina music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and writing the score for Disney’s animated feature, Moana. He has performed at the White House. He’s welcomed at events from the Kennedy Center Honors to gatherings of historians who seem to love Hamilton just as much as die-hard musical theatre buffs. In the midst of all this attention and activity he’s still very connected to his roots. Anyone who follows him on Twitter can find him relating stories about his parents, his wife, his young son, his relatives, and his countless friends, as well as chatting with as many fans as he can.

The experience of high school theatre never seems to be very far from Miranda’s mind. He speaks of it often, and his school theatre experiences are the explicit topic of our interview. 

Shackled by debt

Originally published in the February 2016 Dramatics.

A former chair of the International Thespian Officers, Sarah Davenport completed a B.F.A. in acting in May of 2015 after four rigorous years inside the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. As a result, Davenport is $50,000 in debt from student loans, both private and federal. She thinks she should be making monthly payments of around $300, but right now, she said, she doesn’t have enough left over each month for even $100 payments. The interest and the years of her life Davenport could possibly spend in debt are racking up, and collectors, she said, have started calling. Looking back, Davenport thinks that while she had a handle on the numbers, she didn’t fully understand the tremendous impact her student loan debt could have on her daily life and her long-term future plans for owning a home and having a family. Davenport is not alone. The cost of higher education is a hot topic right now, and Dramatics set out to understand what it’s like to be trying to launch a career as an actor while also managing a significant amount of student loan debt.