JHIYA SINGH still remembers the morning her phone buzzed with a group message from her Thespian troupe director, Meegan Gliner: “Please report to the office immediately for very important news.”

“We were like, ‘Oh no; what did we do?’” Singh recalled. “When we got there, she was like, ‘You’re not in trouble. You’re going to like this news.’”

Thespian Troupe 6647 of the Academy of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, had been awarded the 2019 Send a Troupe to Festival Grant, a prestigious one-time grant through the Educational Theatre Foundation that covers travel and registration expenses for the International Thespian Festival, the nation’s premier high school theatre event. Gliner and eight Thespians attended in summer 2019, along with chaperone Brandon Forde, himself an alum and former president of Thespian Troupe 6647, now an eighth grade math teacher at the school.

On hearing the news, Singh said, “It was so overwhelming and exciting and just … happy. I was just so happy!”

Dramatics connected with Gliner, Singh, and four other members of Troupe 6647 to find out what they learned from ITF 2019, how they’ve applied those lessons, and why they’ll definitely be back at ITF in 2020.

Academy of the Pacific Rim students reacted with shock and excitement upon learning they were selected for the 2019 Send a Troupe to International Thespian Festival Grant.
Academy of the Pacific Rim students reacted with shock and excitement upon learning they were selected for the 2019 Send a Troupe to International Thespian Festival Grant. Photo courtesy of Meegan Gliner.


A self-proclaimed “social butterfly,” Singh, now a senior, nevertheless felt intimidated when she arrived at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus in June for ITF 2019. “I was in this new, school-like setting with people who had the same interests as me, and I’m used to staying in Massachusetts. But I decided to step up, and I made so many friends I’m still in touch with.”

Junior Deric Fernandez agreed. “It felt kind of awkward to talk to people when we first got there, but everybody just wanted to be friends. That was something I was not used to.”

Fernandez, the troupe’s co-president (along with senior Roisin Duffy), attended weeklong student leadership training courses taught by International Thespian Officers. “It was helpful to learn about leadership traits that will come in handy down the road,” said Fernandez, whose ultimate goal is to become a medical doctor.

The Academy of the Pacific Rim delegation to the 2019 International Thespian Festival.
The Academy of the Pacific Rim delegation to the 2019 International Thespian Festival. Photo courtesy of Meegan Gliner.

John Garrison, who also attended the ITO-run leadership training, gave an example: “We learned that leaders need to be stable enough to have conversations with other leaders at the top while also serving as a support system — understanding and helping out other people — at every other level.”

Garrison, now a junior, explored new technical and creative interests at ITF as well, competing in the lighting track of the daylong Tech Challenge and attending a directing workshop that inspired him to more seriously consider alternatives to acting in college and beyond. “I want to push my comfort zone. I want to act, but now I want to direct a play. I want to write a play.”

Isaie Momperousse, a junior and the troupe’s social media coordinator, also intends to pursue theatre professionally. He described ITF as “an eye-opener. I met people with so much talent.”

Far from discouraging Momperousse, seeing this “overwhelming” Thespian talent from around the world inspired him to expect more from himself. When he attends ITF 2020 at the University of Indiana, he intends to broaden his skill set through workshops for costume design, dance, and more. “As an actor, if you can do something other than acting, it can really strengthen your résumé and make you stand out.”

Bryce Mathieu, a senior whose interests include film and music directing, emphasizes the importance of “putting yourself out there” at ITF. “When I was in Nebraska, I was kind of a spectator at first. I didn’t know the area; I didn’t want to feel alone out there.” Mathieu decided to take a chance on college auditions, which resulted in “so many callbacks I didn’t expect. I say, try everything. You never know what opportunities you’ll get.”


One workshop the entire troupe attended was called “Creating Fake Food Props.” There, professional props master Eric Barnes demonstrated how to make a variety of food props from foam. When the troupe returned home, they applied these skills during their school’s Project Week, for which they made foam food props ranging from ice cream shakes to waffle fries to zucchini bread. “We did a fake food project and made four commercials,” said Garrison. “It was fun to see how the group used what we learned to make their own things.”

At ITF, Garrison also struck up a conversation in the exhibit area with a representative from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. He learned about their “Bucket Brigade” of volunteers that hold red buckets at theatre exits to collect cash donations that help individuals across the country receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling, and emergency financial assistance.

“I kept in contact with them, and for our next show, we participated and raised more than $200 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It was really interesting, because I’d never run a fundraiser before,” said Garrison, now the troupe’s official Red Bucket Challenge student representative and coordinator.

When asked what applicable lessons she learned, Singh, who plans to study music therapy and continue theatre as a hobby, mentioned practical skills including how to properly speak in accents, but also general life lessons. She said, “I learned that just because things did not happen the way you planned it doesn’t mean you should give up or lose hope. You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

At ITF 2020, Singh plans to join more dance workshops, a decidedly uncomfortable endeavor for her. “I can’t dance. I have no rhythm, so I want to learn those skills and apply them to theatre.” In particular, she hopes to attend a workshop on how to safely flip, lift, and spin dance partners so she can apply those tricks to cheerleading. (She and Momperousse, both cheerleaders, attended and adored the Kansas All-State 2019 main stage production of Bring It On and, along with the rest of the audience, received pompoms from the cast, which they’ve kept as souvenirs.)

Gliner, who is also the theatre/community and coverage coordinator at the Academy of the Pacific Rim, called their ITF 2019 experience “truly transformative.” Every day they were there, the troupe would meet at a table in their residence hall to compare notes about what they’d learned from workshops, performances, and networking.

“We started brainstorming about ‘when we get back to school, let’s do this or that.’ They were already thinking about how to apply what they were learning, and it all came about very organically,” Gliner said. “Brandon and I just sat back and watched them step up as leaders. John saw the red bucket thing and was like, ‘Let’s do this,’ and Isaie jumped in with social media coverage, and he and Deric used the experience to learn how else they can be leaders. Overall, [ITF] was this big launch pad.”

Thespians from the Academy of the Pacific Rim used lessons in making fake food props they learned at ITF during their school's Project Week. Photo by Meegan Gliner.

From navigating an unfamiliar college campus and making new friends to auditioning for college and seeing top caliber Thespian talent, the students came home inspired and emboldened. “Going to festival was really a game changer for us,” said Garrison.

Thanks to the troupe’s avid fundraising efforts — everything from car washes, bake sales, and a Halloween carnival/haunted house to crowdsourcing through donorschoose.org — five of the eight Thespians will return to ITF in 2020, along with 15 new attendees from Troupe 6647. They’ve also shared their enthusiasm with Thespian troupes from other schools that participate in the Massachusetts Thespian Festival but have never attended the international event.

Garrison and his troupe mates want ITF first-timers to know they have nothing to fear and everything to gain. “I really thought we were going to stand out because it was our troupe’s first [international] festival, but we weren’t the only school there for the first time, and everyone was so nice and welcoming,” he said. “I could have stayed there all summer long.”

The 57th ITF, which takes place June 22-27 at Indiana University in Bloomington, brings together approximately 5,000 high school drama students and their teachers for a weeklong immersion in all things theatre.

The Send a Troupe to International Thespian Festival Grant was created with donations from supporters of the Educational Theatre Association. Up to two current Thespian troupes receive a one-time grant of up to $10,000 to help cover the ITF registration fees for a teacher, inducted Thespians, and appropriate number of chaperones, plus travel expenses to and from Bloomington, Indiana.

Interested in learning more about the Send a Troupe to International Thespian Festival Grant? Grant applications for ITF 2020 are due February 1. 

Thespian Troupe 6647 backstage at their student-directed Freestyle Theatre performance of Familial Ties at the 2019 International Thespian Festival.
Thespian Troupe 6647 backstage at their student-directed Freestyle Theatre performance of Familial Ties at ITF 2019. Photo by Cammy Bihl.
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