The Main Stage at the 2021 International Thespian Festival showcases six plays during prime time. Troupe 3977 from Montverde Academy, Florida, is one of the six troupes to take the stage. They’ll be presenting Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris.

At the time of this post, you can still register for ITF 2021 and watch all the Main Stage shows. Your registration gains you access to the shows, workshops, and so much more!

We caught up with Roberta Emerson, troupe and play director at Montverde Academy. She told us about their processes and how thrilled the troupe is to be performing at ITF.

Clybourne Park 2_Emerson_Roberta

Montverde Academy, Troup 3977, brings timely messages to the stage.

Why perform Clybourne Park now?

In the play, the neighbors pitch a hilarious and appalling battle over territory and legacy. The viewer must consider how far our ideas about race, class, gender, and privilege have evolved. Or how little they’ve changed. Even in 2021, the sense of community projected in the show is still just the whisper of a great man’s dream.

We’re still trying to find connections and yet our world is deeply divided. Just like the play’s characters, if we strip away rhetoric, posturing, fears, stereotypes, and prejudices, we see that we all have basic wants and needs in common. The need for love, safety, and hope fills the characters and drives their words and actions.

We all want to be accepted for who we are instead of judged for our superficial differences. The timely message of the play is true: there’s never a winner in a war against ourselves. Blessed with particularly mature and socially conscious actors, the time was ripe for this show.

What challenges did you face directing Clybourne Park?

This show has deep and mature themes. It can and should be uncomfortable for the creative team, actors, and audience. Several cast members shared their personal experiences. The discussions and heart-wrenching moments experienced in the rehearsal process were life changing. Add COVID-19 restrictions and it got more challenging.

We produced two other shows which ran on successive weekends. There was a lot going on. However, the anxiety and stress helped fuel remarkable performance. 

Also, simply receiving approval to stage this production felt like a risk. It required a leap of faith by our administration to stage such socially charged programming.

What were the most rewarding experiences? 

The meaningful dialogue and growth the cast experienced is the greatest reward. The “talk backs” we held after each show were heartening, too. The audiences recognized the importance of the dialogue, the commitment of the actors, and the need for more programming like Clybourne Park.

What were the students’ reactions about going to the Main Stage at ITF 2021? 

This troupe undertakes every project with the intention of it being award-winning quality. We’d already received the honor of being a Main Stage presentation at the Florida State Thespian Festival. Plus, we were invited to perform with one of our professional partners, the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden, as a companion performance to their staging of A Raisin in the Sun

Even though we knew we had a strong submission, when the news broke the troupe was as exuberant as if it had been the first award! Staff and students are thrilled to be on the Main Stage at the International Thespian Festival.

What big lessons were learned putting on this play during COVID-19?

Artists are called to reinvent themselves daily. We never considered cancelling the show. We did six shows this season with smaller casts. We socially distanced, wore masks, had small audiences, streamed live, and made other efforts. Our creative team, parents, students, and administration supported us in every effort.  

We learned that flexibility and adaptation are keys to survival. Students saw friends and programs all around them struggling. But the most important lesson we learned is that storytelling is vital to survival.

The need for the Arts has never been greater as the world struggles with its demons. We offered the gift of perspective, hope, entertainment, and release to our audiences in these dark days. The students realize now more than ever why they do this theatre work. 

What else would you like to tell our readers?

Our conservatory model at Montverde Academy is a gem among other Arts programs. Students have the daily opportunity to spend three hours in immersive theatre, music, dance, and tech classes. Then they can follow-up with two more hours of rehearsal process.

The program’s designed to give them a depth of skill and knowledge to tackle deep and meaningful literature. So, we’ve continued to heighten the level of our programming. We know it’s important to bring pertinent messaging to our audiences. We’ve worked to raise audiences’ expectations and desires for meaningful productions. They support us in offering productions beyond standard high school and regional fare.  

The fact that our students have a 100% placement record in some of the finest theatre colleges and universities across the country speaks highly of our successes. We look forward to seeing our students on larger stages and platforms.

Patty Craft is Content Manager for She lives and writes on 10 acres in southwestern Ohio where she also hikes to her heart’s content. If you have a story idea share it with us here.

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