Theatrical talent, energy, and passion were on display in Colorado for the chapter’s 2019 State Thespian Conference, which took place December 12 to 14 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The 55th annual event saw more than 1,000 middle school students participate in daylong festivities, while more than 4,000 high school students and teachers gathered for two-and-a-half days of workshops, individual events, and performances.

On the Bellco Theatre main stage, audiences cheered productions of the musical Matilda, presented by Thespian Troupe 4911 of Rifle High School, and the comedy Kid Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh, performed by Troupe 2959 of Mitchell High School from Colorado Springs. Additionally, seniors competed for thousands of scholarship dollars in acting, musical theatre, and technical theatre from the more than 30 colleges and universities attending.

Eaglecrest High School alum Andy Kelso kicked off Thursday evening activities at the conference’s official opening ceremonies. Kelso has seen his share of success since graduating in 1998 from Thespian Troupe 4999, making his Broadway debut in Mamma Mia! and originating the part of Harry in the Broadway ensemble of Kinky Boots. However, as Thespians learned, his acting career almost stalled before it began. His first high school theatre audition for The Secret Garden went so poorly that his directors sang along to help him through it. Wanting to stay involved, Kelso joined the team of spotlight operators for the show, which earned an invitation to the 1995 International Thespian Festival main stage. He used his time on crew to watch and learn, and that experience paid off: Kelso won the part of The Baker the next year in his school’s production of Into the Woods.

Thespian Abby Stuckrath says it’s the enthusiasm of every participant that makes the Colorado conference special. According to the State Thespian Officer and 2019-20 International Thespian Officer from Denver School of the Arts, “There is nothing more inspiring and uplifting than witnessing thousands of theatre kids belting Whitney Houston before the main stage performances. Also, every year people come prepared with signs for ‘Free hugs,’ which is hilarious and heartwarming.”

Stuckrath’s workshop “Jedi Training for Leaders,” which uses movie motifs to illustrate concepts of servant leadership, was a popular choice. “As a student and leader, I have never felt so supported and inspired by my peers,” she said. “I don’t think I will ever forget the hectic yet amazing experience of teaching 120 Colorado Thespians about not only leadership but also Star Wars.”

The “Heavy Metal Shakespeare” workshop stood out to Avi Levin, a Thespian officer at Denver School of the Arts. “The workshop highlighted Shakespeare’s prevalence in today’s society through heavy metal music,” said Levin. “I am not an avid heavy metal jammer, but I appreciated getting to compare something I know, Shakespeare, to a music style I don’t.”

For Horizon High School’s Peyton Mazza, the chance to forge new friendships was most memorable. “The highlight of my 2019 conference was meeting some amazing people,” Mazza said. “As a State Thespian Officer, I spent lots of time walking around the convention center, helping where needed, and talking to people about their experiences. I got a true understanding of the way people were affected by the conference. Overall, the conference was a crazy, sparkling, and theatre-filled weekend that could not have brought more joy to my life.”

With the 2019 conference now in the books, organizers are already thinking about the next one. “Each year gets bigger and better in Colorado,” said Chapter Director Tami LoSasso. “We’re already looking forward to 2020.”

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