Change happens fast at the International Thespian Festival. #ThesFest is the biggest theatre festival for students each summer. I didn’t expect my experiences there to affect me as powerfully as they did, but now I tell every Thespian I know: Go to ITF! Here are three ways to use your time at the festival to grow yourself, your resume, and your career.

Change Happens in Workshops

Among all the offerings at ITF, workshops are one of the biggest draws. There are workshops on everything from dance to technical theatre to writing, and even specialized areas like stage combat. Teaching artists and professionals lead the workshops: spending time with these experts is an experience full of opportunities to ask questions or try new skills.

Attending a variety of workshops is a huge step you can take for yourself – go to sessions on topics you love and also try several that focus on skills you don’t yet have. These workshops are hands-on opportunities to get feedback from the best of the best. They help us get ready for our careers after high school, so don’t be afraid to stretch yourself into new and exciting areas. And don’t be afraid of trying something new – there are thousands of other Thespians at ITF with all levels of experience. It’s a supportive environment perfect for trying something new.

Change Happens When We Network

At ITF 2022, I got the chance to be the stage manager for both the commissioned play, Spring Break by Joe Calarco, and the commissioned musical, ERNXST, or The Importance of Being by Bree Lowdermilk, Kait Kerrigan, and Justin Elizabeth Sayre. Both shows gave me experiences I will never forget.

The biggest takeaway from these two unforgettable experiences was the networking I did. By working on two separate creative teams at the very beginning of the creative process of new works of theatre, I got to watch the way professionals in the industry worked, gain real life experience, and make connections that I’ll use in my future theatrical career.

Another way to network at ITF is by connecting with all the exhibitors present. ITF brings in the best in the theatre industry, and the exhibit hall is a great place for students and troupe directors to learn about new products and meet with industry professionals who make a living in their respective fields. Chat them up, learn something new, and make a professional connection! 

Opportunities Are Everywhere

ITF offers so much more than just an opportunity to perform and receive a Thespy® Award. Opportunities really are everywhere: attending workshops, meeting with representatives from college theatre programs from all across the country, watching chapter select one-acts and main stage shows, meeting other Thespians and making friends, and possibly even going to rehearsals.

Other opportunities you may not know about include being part of a commissioned work written exclusively for a debut at ITF or participating in student-written 24 Hour Plays. College auditions are another huge opportunity that rising seniors can take advantage of at festival (be sure to add this opportunity when you register for ITF). Connecting with representatives from schools and learning things about their programs in person is SO MUCH better than flipping through a booklet you received in the mail. Plus, by going through the college auditions at ITF, you get a jump on the process and expand your access. Dozens of college theatre programs are always looking for new talent at ITF.

My experience with the International Thespian Society and its parent company, the Educational Theatre Association, have been unique. I didn’t go to #ThesFest expecting it to jumpstart my career and make me fall even more in love with the arts. When I became a member of ITS, I felt like I had officially become an artist and creator. Going to ITF, I was excited to compete in the Thespy Awards on an international level. I didn’t know I would get to stage manage two shows, meet and work with writers and producers who make a living doing what they love, lead two casts of high school artists (who I still occasionally catch up with), participate in college auditions and callbacks, and get into one of the college programs I auditioned for! I wouldn’t be where I am in my technical theatre career without the opportunities ITF gave me.

Everything that EdTA and ITF offer to theatre students is incredible. By providing these opportunities to young performers and technical artists, ITF opens doors that can’t be opened anywhere else. Registration for this year’s International Thespian Festival is open now! Take the next step in your career by planning your trip to Bloomington this year, where you’ll grow your craft, network, and take every opportunity it provides!

Sydney Stephenson is a writer and stage manager in high school. Go behind the scenes of her latest projects on Instagram.

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