High school students from Eastern Washington recently gathered at the Washington Thespian Individual Event East Regional Competition at Lewis and Clark High School to showcase their theater chops. Dozens of students were selected to advance to the State Thespian Festival at Central Washington University in March.
Spokane and Spokane Valley high schools participated in the regional competition, along with schools from Moses Lake, Burlington, Hanford, Kennewick and Bellingham.
More than 200 students put on skits, sang songs and performed monologues before a panel of three judges. They also competed in technical areas such as costume design, costume construction, scenic design, theater marketing and stage management.
The skits had to be performed in less than five minutes and there was a three-minute limit on monologues.
The students could perform any published theatrical work, said Greg Pschirrer, who is on the board of the Washington State Thespians. The group is a chapter of the Educational Theatre Association and hosts the regional and state thespian competitions.
“They can do anything from an old classical piece up to Hamilton,” he said. “We get to see a little bit of everything, which is great.”
Pschirrer has been teaching theater at Lewis and Clark High School for 15 years. He said not all of his theater students participate in the competition, but many do.
“We’ve got kids who are super driven who want to do this as a career,” he said. “Some just want to do something new. This is their chance to do something that they wouldn’t be able to do in high school.”
Watching other students perform is a great way to learn about a wider variety of plays than someone might ordinarily be exposed to, he said. “Our libraries don’t really stock plays anymore,” he said. “This is a way to get them some exposure to different material.”
Some of the younger, less experienced students helped out behind the scenes so they could see what the competition was like, he said. It can be daunting to compete on stage in front of the judges, who are all theater professionals, Pschirrer said.
“That’s terrifying for most children,” he said.
Attending the competition also promotes friendships between students at different schools, who often attend each other’s plays to show support for each other, Pschirrer said. “The best thing about this event is it brings together kids from all over Eastern Washington,” he said.
Amia Delaney is a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School who is advancing to the state competition in the solo musical and duo scene categories. She performed “A Part of That” from “The Last Five Years” for her solo musical.
“It’s just a show that I really enjoy,” she said. “It also has really good acting beats. It has a clear character transition from beginning to end.”
She said she’s in the advanced musical theater class and always tries out for plays and shows at her school. She said she gets a lot out of the competitions she has been in.
“It’s a really good opportunity for getting feedback on pieces,” she said. “It’s really good exposure to other materials. You’re able to go in and watch a bunch of performances.”
The benefits of the competition go beyond polishing acting skills, Pschirrer said. The students competing in the technical areas are interviewed about their work by the judges.
“It’s a great life experience for them,” he said. “We’re practicing job skills, we’re practicing interview skills.”
Students who perform well at the State Thespian Festival will move on to the national competition in Nebraska in June. Pschirrer said he’s sent students to nationals every year for the past five years.
“We had kids qualify before then, but we just weren’t going,” he said. “We’ve had kids win at nationals. There’s a long history of excellence.”
Delaney said she attended nationals last year and hopes to go back.
“It’s really incredible,” she said. “You meet so many different types of people. The main point is going to lot of different workshops.”
Overall, Washington state doesn’t send a lot of students to nationals, but Pschirrer said he’s proud about how well they compete against states that send hundreds of students.
“We’re pretty proud of our small number of entrants and the large number of results we get,” he said.
Students who attend nationals also get the chance to take classes from Broadway professionals and audition for admission to dozens of colleges and for scholarships.
“It’s just a neat experience that helps broaden their horizons and helps kids figure out if they want to do this for a living,” he said.
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