International Thespian Festival. The pinnacle of theater competitions and classes. The ideal place to spend a part of summer if you’re a dedicated thespian. One whole week of bonding with your troupe members and meeting fellow drama freaks from around the country. And I was privileged enough to go. So, as I climbed aboard the bus to begin the drive there, why was I nervous?
I tried to put reason to my emotions as we rode to Nebraska. I wondered if I was the only one feeling the way I was. As we drove into the night, I looked around the bus for anyone still awake to talk with. I found my friend JP, a fellow rising sophomore and newcomer to festival. I took a seat beside him.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” I asked him.
“I’m so scared! I’ve never even been to a theater festival before! I’m mostly nervous because I don’t know what to expect.”
“Same here,” I said, “Even though I’ve been to competitions before, I have no clue what this will be like. I’m worried that no one will want to hang out with me, both kids from our school and strangers. And I’m afraid that I won’t be anywhere near everyone else talentwise, especially in competition!”
“Let’s make a pact to stick together, at least for the first few days, so we can look out for each other,” JP said. I was relieved that someone felt the same way I did, and happily agreed.
As we got closer and closer to the University, my anxiety began to dissolve a little. Everyone on the bus was joking around, we were all in a good mood, and people were making an effort to include everyone in our troupe in any sort of game or conversation that was happening.
Once we arrived, people from our school separated and our teacher, Mrs. Voight, laid down the rules. I was surprised but excited by the amount of freedom we were being given, but I was also concerned about the great responsibility that went along with it. I hoped I was capable of handling it.
After getting settled into our surprisingly nice dorms, we went in groups to the downtown area for lunch. We ate at a Greek restaurant and learned a bit about Greek culture from one of the staff members. One of the workers was fluent in more than five languages and a couple of our girls were even able to have a conversation with him in another language!
We didn’t have to be anywhere until much later, and since there weren’t many workshops offered on the first day, people decided to do some shopping downtown. I was worried because I didn’t know my way around at all, and I didn’t think that a group of upperclassman would want someone younger tagging along. I discovered it was actually quite the opposite. One of my good friends, who was three grades above me and also my roommate, invited me and a few other “rookies” to come shopping with her. We happily took her up on the offer.
We spent the next few hours walking up and down the streets, going into whatever shop caught our eye. We found a store the sold ties with squid on them (the boys in our group couldn’t resist and each purchased one), a shop with beautiful handmade jewelry, some vintage outlets, and more. We even remembered to buy a little something for our families! I had a great time and really enjoyed getting to know my friends even better. Any concerns that I had were gone for the time being.
I had just reached my floor when my phone rang. It was my friend, Blake, calling to ask if I wanted to rehearse our scene before we performed for competition the next day. I said yes and we met downstairs to practice with our assistant teacher, Mr. House. Once I began thinking about our performance the next day, my worries returned. Even though the rehearsal went fairly well, I couldn’t push the nervousness out of my head.
I lay in bed that night running lines over and over in my head, trying to convince myself that everything would go well. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I tried to tell myself. Even though winning wasn’t anywhere near our focus; I just wanted to have learning experience and get feedback from the judges, I was still terrified that I would embarrass myself. And I was even more worried that I would do something wrong and mess up Blake.
The next morning I had to wake up earlier than most people to attend the leadership workshop. Mrs. Voight had told me earlier in the year that she thought I should sign up for it, and I had gone along with it. I met the other two girls from our troupe who were attending, and we walked across campus to the class. Over the course of the week, I learned a ton from the class, from leadership skills to group conversational tips.
I met Blake and JP for lunch, although neither Blake nor I were very hungry. Afterwards we got out our map and headed in what we thought was the direction of the building where our event was to be held. We wandered around for about half an hour until we came across some train tracks that we were positive weren’t on our campus map. We soon discovered that we had been reading the map upside down, and that we had walked the opposite direction of where we wanted to be. Now we were on the other side of campus from the building, and we were scheduled to perform in 10 minutes. To make matters worse, Blake and I were in dress clothes.
We made it to the acting room with only a minute to spare. We stood there, panting and dripping sweat. Fortunately for us, the events were running behind and we had a few minutes to sit and catch our breath. But those few minutes were also enough time to see a few intimidating acts go before us. Blake and I tried to push away our stage fright.
All too soon, it was go time. “’Doubt’ -- Dang and Wood,” one of the judges called. We stood up and made our way to the front of the room, all eyes on us. We looked at each other, each took a deep breath, and began.
Blake and I went all out. For the next five minutes, I was a nun, and there was nothing more important to me than ensuring the safety of my students from the greedy monster that was Father Flynn. We yelled, we spit, we cried; we gave it our all. When it was over, I was shaking from the nerves and being in the moment, but I was smiling. We had gotten over our fears and accomplished our goal. We didn’t care if we won an award or not, we felt like we had done our best and that was all that mattered.
After our competition success, it felt like a burden was lifted from me. Not only was I relieved to be done performing, but I felt more confident from my personal success. I spent the rest of the afternoon taking workshops and meeting new people, with no hesitation.
Over the next few days at ITF, I came out of my shell. I did things that would normally be way outside my comfort zone, but I was ready to accept a challenge. I participated in classes, made new friends and grew closer to older ones, went to all of the dances, and best of all, got to be myself. The combination of the confidence boost I received from being brave enough to perform, the help offered by the older students and teachers in my troupe, the numerous learning opportunities present at festival, and the accepting attitude of the other thespians, I feel, helped me to grow as a person. I felt better about myself, I learned about theater and what it means to people, I became a stronger leader, I learned how to handle responsibilities, and I made friends. I am so glad that I got to go to the International Thespian Festival this year, and I’m already counting down the days until Festival 2013.
Randolph's drama troupe has attended the International Thespian Festival for the past 11 years. Randolph students have made friends from around the country and around the world. Drama teacher Connie Voight says that in addition to having the opportunity to perform and get feedback from a wider audience, one of the benefits of participation is for our students to connect with 3,000 others who share their passion for theater.