JEYNA LYNN GONZALES ― a rising senior in Troupe 6371 at Panama City Beach’s Arnold High School ― was in fifth grade when she was introduced to the Broadway production of 13 the Musical on YouTube. The Floridian says the combination of music, dance, and acting was an experience nothing short of “fun, beautiful, and cohesive.”

Because her middle school lacked a theatre program, Gonzales would not perform in a musical until her freshman year. After experiencing the enchantment of the stage and the friendship of her troupe mates, she has dedicated her free time to ensuring every Thespian finds a similar place of acceptance.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales preparing for the Critic’s Choice Monologues at the Florida District 1 Festival. Photo courtesy of Jeyna Lynn Gonzales.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales preparing for the Critic’s Choice Monologues at the Florida District 1 Festival. Photo courtesy of Jeyna Lynn Gonzales.

The newly elected International Thespian Officer attended the 2020 Virtual International Thespian Festival, where she spent her first day at the student leadership workshop, Through the Leadership Lens. There, she worked with fellow Thespians to identify her leadership style, develop skills as a collaborative team member, and learn best practices for maximizing arts advocacy in schools.

Gonzales has worked with Arnold High’s theatre program to expand racial diversity and access to the International Thespian Society. As a board officer and now ITS troupe president, she has increased fundraising to provide grant and scholarship access for students unable to attend conferences or struggling to pay induction fees. She believes no student should be excluded from opportunities they want to participate in because they cannot afford them. As a Filipino American, she knows students of color sometimes lack access to theatre because their communities fail to provide exposure and opportunity to engage in the arts. After experiencing the student leadership workshop, Gonzales is more motivated than ever to advocate for theatre access and inclusion for all high schoolers.

Why did you want to participate in the leadership program? 
It has been my dream to represent the students of the International Thespian Society as an ITO since my sophomore year. As leaders, I think it is incredibly important that we keep striving to do better regardless of how much experience we have. Just as the world continues to change and develop, we must follow suit and prepare ourselves as best we can to lead our peers into a greater future. I simply wanted to learn how to improve my leadership skills and use those skills to guide others.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales rehearsing for A Year With Frog and Toad.
Jeyna Lynn Gonzales rehearsing for A Year With Frog and Toad. Photo courtesy of Jeyna Lynn Gonzales.

Can you tell me about your top three favorite moments in the virtual student leadership program?
I adored the teachings and style of our wonderful keynote speaker Sarah Singer-Nourie, the wisdom and experience of the brilliant Alton Fitzgerald White, and most of all, the eagerness and excitement of the students so willing to participate in the training’s discussions.

What is one thing that surprised you about the training?
I was surprised by the sheer number of students who were interested and engaged in a process to improve their leadership skills. That shows real initiative that I am overjoyed to see in young people today. This was my first time at ITF. I loved making so many new friends and connecting with people around the world. It astonishes me how amazing teenagers are at utilizing social media platforms to connect, and those skills were demonstrated to make up for the lack of in-person connection during the festival. I found it incredibly cool and indicative of tenacity.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales performing “Something to Believe In” as Katherine in Newsies.
Jeyna Lynn Gonzales performing “Something to Believe In” as Katherine in Newsies. Photo courtesy of Jeyna Lynn Gonzales.

You mentioned it is important for students to see a representation of themselves in theatre. How will you apply what you learned to continue to expand the representation in your troupe?
I know firsthand that money is a large factor in whether a new student in my troupe chooses to participate or continue to participate in our activities. We offer many options for our students to fundraise, most prevalently by obtaining local business sponsors; however, we have not done well enough in displaying how to go about that process. Sarah Singer-Nourie’s strategies for advocacy will come in handy when negotiating finances. This upcoming year will be a difficult one, but that is where our leaders come in. We know we need to begin the year with strong excitement, positivity, and encouragement not only to stay afloat but also to thrive under the circumstances presented to us.

What advice would you give Thespians interested in pursuing student leadership?
If you truly want something and consider it a priority, you have to put in the work and the dedication to attain it. Go for any opportunity available because you surely miss 100% of the chances you do not take. Apply for grants. Apply for scholarships. Reach out to local business sponsors. Budget wisely. Never let the lack of money stop you from pursuing what you want. If you are fortunate enough that the cost of attendance has and will never be an issue for you, I urge you to consider donating to help your fellow Thespians who do not have access to the same resources you do. Broadway Licensing’s Send a Leader Diversity Grant meant a lot to me and will mean a lot to others who receive this grant in the future.

Lastly, make the most of the opportunities in front of you. If you do not see them, find them. If you cannot find them, create them.

Learn more about International Thespian Society student leadership programs and the Broadway Licensing Send a Leader Diversity grants online.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales as Renee in the female version of The Odd Couple.
Jeyna Lynn Gonzales as Renee in the female version of The Odd Couple. Photo courtesy of Jeyna Lynn Gonzales.
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