Attending conventions and conferences centered around events enjoyed by participants can be extremely rewarding experiences. In theatre, this conference is The Iowa Thespian Festival, a forty-eight-hour-long festival that goes above and beyond the standard conference. Students from all across Iowa can attend various plays, musical theatre acts, auditions and workshops. The workshops involve real-world experiences from people who work in theatre every day. Aside from acting, they offer technical events and provide students the chance to showcase things like costume designs, stage management portfolios or scenic design. There are also various opportunities to audition for college and thespian scholarships for communicative arts majors.
The festival is hosted at the University of Northern Iowa. A number of different high schools, including Waukee, put on performances both small and large for over 1,000 students and directors that come every year. This year 54 Waukee students attended, making Waukee the second largest group to attend. Although not every student competed in the individual performances, they still got to attend various performances from other schools and attend workshops about all aspects of theatre. The main stage productions this year were “Defying Gravity”, “Carrie the Musical” and “Eurydice”, which were all put on by other schools from around the state. Waukee has not put on a main stage production at the festival. Waukee Theatre Arts teacher Mr. Jorgensen states, “We haven’t reached that level just yet, but we’ll see what the future holds.”
Jorgensen explained the festival and its importance in his own words. He stated, “The Iowa Festival is all about bringing together Iowa high schools to perform, compete, and celebrate theatre over the course of two days.” Specifically, schools can have different students compete in individual competitions with a range of pieces, like a monologue, duo or group acting and solo, group or duo musical theatre. Hours of practice are put into each individual performance, whether they are performing solo or with others. “The interesting thing about Thespian Festival,” Jorgensen expressed, “is that there’s so little involvement on my end or any faculty end, that if the students have the idea for a piece, they put it together.”
Two Waukee students, Reece Harmsen and Kyah Sneed, finished first in Duo Musical Theatre and had the chance to perform on the main stage at the festival after this placement. The two performed “Freedom” from “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown”. When asked about how performing on the main stage was, they both agreed it was a nerve-wracking yet exhilarating experience. “It felt amazing. It’s our senior year, and I felt blessed…to get to sing on the big stage with my best friend,” Sneed stated. “We were scared because that’s like 3,000 people, but we pushed through and performed a song that’s about driving in the car with your best friend, something we do very often on our road trips together. We really connected with the song and it made it ten times better.”
“Wow, it was amazing!” Harmsen expressed. “We were so happy we could finally show everyone what we’ve been working on early morning in the practice rooms and after school too. It was surreal and we felt so lucky.” The moment that the pair won first place was rewarding, who had been working for so long on their performance. “I felt like all the hard work and the nerves and the tears were worth it,” Sneed emphasized. “We had worked on it for months and had been really hard on ourselves trying to make it perfect. All of the ‘Are we really good enoughs’ and ‘could we really win?’ questions were washed away.”
The weekend undoubtedly leaves a student with many thoughts and new experiences gained. After Waukee’s numerous wins in several different categories, it is a weekend well-spent for those who love, enjoy and thrive in the theatre element. When asked about his favorite part of the festival from a teacher and director’s standpoint, Jorgensen replied “Hands down, getting to spend time with students and see them learn and grow and delight in and share this common experience.” “One of the greatest things is just listening to them talk about everything that they got to experience over the weekend and their excitement. You can hear it in their voices.” These experiences that come from The Iowa Thespian Festival only strengthen the department and develops precious, long-lasting memories for students and directors alike.