By Anita Martin
Jhiya Singh still remembers the morning her phone buzzed with a group message from her Thespian troupe director, Meegan Gliner: “Please report to the office immediately for very important news.”
Thespian Troupe 6647 of the Academy of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, had been awarded the 2019 Send a Troupe to Festival Grant, a prestigious one-time grant through the Educational Theatre Foundation that covers expenses for the International Thespian Festival, the nation’s premier high school theatre event. Gliner and eight Thespians attended in summer 2019, along with chaperone Brandon Forde, himself an alum and former president of Thespian Troupe 6647, now an eighth-grade math teacher at the school.
On hearing the news, Singh said, “It was so overwhelming and exciting and simply happy. I was just so happy!”
Dramatics.org, the online version of the Educational Theatre Association publication connected with Gliner, Singh, and a few other members of Troupe 6647 to find out what they learned from ITF 2019, how they have applied those lessons, and why they will be back at ITF in 2020.
A self-proclaimed “social butterfly,” Singh, nevertheless felt intimidated when she arrived on campus in June for ITF 2019. “I was in this new, school-like setting with people who had the same interests as me, and I’m used to staying in Massachusetts. But I decided to step up, and I made so many friends I’m still in touch with.”
Junior Deric Fernandez agreed. “It felt kind of awkward to talk to people when we first got there, but everybody just wanted to be friends. That was something I was not used to.”
Fernandez, the troupe’s co-president (along with senior Roisin Duffy), attended weeklong student leadership training courses taught by International Thespian Officers (ITO). “It was helpful to learn about leadership traits that will come in handy down the road,” said Fernandez, whose goal is to become a medical doctor.
John Garrison, who also attended the ITO-run leadership training, gave an example: “We learned that leaders need to be stable enough to have conversations with other leaders at the top while also serving as a support system — understanding and helping out other people — at every other level.”
Garrison also explored new technical and creative interests competing in the lighting track of the Tech Challenge and attending a directing workshop that inspired him to consider alternatives more seriously to acting in college and beyond. “I want to push my comfort zone. I want to act, but now I want to direct a play. I want to write a play.”
One workshop the entire troupe attended was called “Creating Fake Food Props.” There, professional props master Eric Barnes demonstrated how to make a variety of food props from foam. When the troupe returned home, they applied these skills during their school’s Project Week, for which they made foam food props ranging from ice cream shakes to waffle fries to zucchini bread. “We did a fake food project and made four commercials,” said Garrison. “It was fun to see how the group used what we learned to make their own things.”
At ITF, Garrison also struck up a conversation in the exhibit area with a representative from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. He learned about their “Bucket Brigade” of volunteers that hold red buckets at theatre exits to collect cash donations that help individuals across the country receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling, and emergency financial assistance.
“I kept in contact with them, and for our next show in the fall of 2019, we participated and raised more than $200 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It was really interesting because I’d never run a fundraiser before,” said Garrison.
When asked what applicable lessons she learned, Singh, who plans to study music therapy and continue theatre as a hobby, mentioned practical skills including how to properly speak in accents, but also general life lessons. She said, “I learned that just because things did not happen the way you planned it doesn’t mean you should give up or lose hope. You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Interested in supporting a Thespian Troupe’s journey to the International Thespian Festival? Make a gift today.