THESPIANS, it’s time to make your voices heard! Take a few minutes to meet the 12 students — narrowed from a pool of 56 applicants — running in the 2020-21 International Thespian Officer election this year. In June, six will be selected by members of the new International Thespian Student Leadership Council (ITSLC), made up of one STO, PTO, or appointed delegate from each chapter of the International Thespian Society.

The leadership council represents you, so share your input about the candidates with them. Send your questions for the candidates to ITO@Schooltheatre.org.

Spencer Angell

Spencer Angell

Spencer Angell, Troupe 639

How has theatre impacted your life?
Theatre has given me a community where I feel welcomed and accepted. It has also given me the opportunity to serve as a 2019-20 ITO. During this term, my fellow ITOs and I have really worked to make a positive difference in Thespians’ lives. This term has taught me that anyone can make a difference if they work hard enough.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
One lesson I have learned from theatre is the importance of teamwork. Before my first play, I could never have expected the amount of work done by so many people to put on a production. Theatre is proof of the value of teamwork.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
My favorite theatre experience is ITF 2019. Not only did I receive the amazing opportunity to serve as an ITO, but I also got to see some of my friends kill it onstage in the Kansas Thespians production, Bring It On. Watching them perform to that massive crowd was awe-inspiring.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
I would bring two key strengths to ITS as an ITO. First, I am good at forming action plans that serve as the base for achieving an initiative. Second, I bring my experience of serving as an ITO previously. I believe that if I were reelected, this experience would allow me to assist the new ITOs in learning the position.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
I would serve EdTA’s mission of shaping lives through theatre education by working on the continued development of an initiative I served on the subcommittee for this year: the ITSLC. The International Thespian Student Leadership Council aims to give representation to all chapters of ITS. We already have 32 chapters represented, and I want to continue until we have all 48 chapters represented. I want to continue developing the content of these meetings so that they serve the purpose of giving students a say in how their lives are shaped through theatre education.

Emily Benelli

Emily Benelli

Emily Benelli, Troupe 6577

How has theatre impacted your life?
Theatre has allowed me to be courageous — to speak in front of crowds of a thousand, to stand atop 50-foot scaffolding and hang a light, to show my school emotional vulnerability. Yet, my courage doesn’t start and stop at “places” and curtain call; theatre has impacted my life by showing me that anything I can do onstage, I can do off it as well. One of the students I work with in a special education classroom has a big imagination and loves to play pretend. While some of the other peer tutors are hesitant to interact with her as a Disney character, theatre has given me the courage to take on any role and build connections. I can jump into her world as the Anna to her Elsa and, because of this, I was able to forge a relationship. Not only that, my courage with her built trust among the other students who saw me. Theatre has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and make a difference.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
I learned that my voice is powerful, but it’s more powerful when other people are speaking alongside me. Theatre emphasizes teamwork or working in an ensemble. The International Thespian Society is unique because, not only are we a group of strong speakers and like-minded individuals, we also are given the opportunity to support each other and share our messages with the world. Theatre taught me that, while an individual can bring a community together, a group can actually build it.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
In my Acting I class my freshman year, we had a clowning unit. My class went outside one day, and we practiced balancing objects on our hands: chairs, ladders, various poles. Some of us even got to practice walking on a big, plastic ball; it was very fun! Looking around at everyone outside on a beautiful day, laughing and trying to keep a random object centered on our hands, I realized no other class at my high school could let me experience something as unique as this. Side note: I was solid at the hand balancing, but really bad at juggling.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
An ITO requires passion and commitment. Through theatre, I have learned I want to be a voice for people and, through my experience onstage, I have formed a bold voice, passionate about speaking up for others. These three years in high school drama, I have honed that voice and created new opportunities for the students at my school. My driving motivation is helping others, and I can bring this passion to the International Thespian Society. Further, I maintain an unbridled sense of enthusiasm when approaching projects, both big and small. Challenges energize me, and I do my best work in the face of adversity. I can listen to others, hear their ideas, and turn those ideas into actions. For example, when needing to raise funds for my troupe, I oversaw a car wash from inception to completion. The International Thespian Society will benefit from having a student voice guided by the passion to make a sustainable difference.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
EdTA fosters the importance of theatre in students’ lives. Some students have been overlooked for this opportunity. As an ITO, I would have the chance to advocate for inclusive theatre in high schools. Inclusive theatre integrates students in special education programs into general education theatre courses, providing them with unique opportunities to learn life skills, analyze emotions, and improve kinesthetic awareness. Professional development for teachers can include training educators in the most effective ways to teach in an inclusive environment, as well as expanding the resources necessary to help with inclusion. EdTA can benefit by having a student advocate who can speak to this specific area of theatre education; I can be this voice.

Lena Dougherty

Lena Dougherty

Lena Dougherty, Troupe 8938

How has theatre impacted your life?
I am not sure there is enough paper or enough time to describe all the ways theatre has impacted my life. If I have to choose just a couple of ways, I would highlight the acceptance theatre has provided me and the ways it has opened my mind and heart to people and situations I may not have known otherwise. First, I have found the theatre world to be the most inclusive of any group I have ever encountered. Differences are celebrated in theatre. No one is asked to assimilate or pretend to be someone they are not. I know this firsthand as a hard-of-hearing actor who has only one ear. My theatre family has made me proud of my differences. I am often asked to share my experience or add my perspective. I am never embarrassed. Instead, I am encouraged to own my uniqueness. In addition, theatre has brought people of different faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities into my life, and these people have impacted me in ways I can never repay. I know my life would never be what it is without my interaction with my theatre family.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
I know it is cliched, but I’ve learned that hard work pays off again and again in theatre. Like any sport or craft, the more you practice and the more time you put into your development, the better you become. When I have taken emphasis off dance to put time into my vocal technique, I have noticed my dance level falling. When I am careful to focus on all the parts, I have the most successful auditions and performances. Winging it definitely is not the way to earn roles.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
My favorite theatre experience is hard to choose, but I definitely enjoyed playing Cassie in 13 the Musical. It was just a fun show with a cast of people who quickly became some of my closest friends. It wasn’t the biggest role I have played, but I felt that it was a great fit for me. Cassie was fun to bring to the stage. Summer shows seem to win a special place in my heart. We rehearse long days over a shorter period of time and have little else to do but bring the show to life. I always love a good summer show, whether I’m co-directing, choreographing, or acting.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
My strengths that can benefit ITS are my perspective, work ethic, dedication, and love for this organization. First, I believe I bring a unique perspective. I know firsthand that theatre is necessary for so many people who are considered by society to be different. This family feeling is life changing and lifesaving. Everyone deserves to feel part of something, and my goal is to open the theatre world up to as many individuals as possible. To do that, we have to advocate for the arts and fight to have theatre sustained and expanded. Theatre is not a privilege. It is a necessity. I believe it is as important as math or reading, especially in today’s world. Second, I am willing to work for the organization in any capacity. I will stuff envelopes just as proudly as I will choreograph opening numbers or speak with lawmakers. Next, I will always give 100% because I believe so strongly in this organization and in theatre generally. Last, I love the International Thespian Society. I have loved getting to know this organization at festival and through my work as a State Thespian Officer. I believe it truly gives each of its members honor, pride, affirmation, and inspiration, as I have experienced each of these firsthand.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
If given the opportunity to represent EdTA’s mission, I will continue to openly share my experience as a member of ITS and the theatre community. I will be persistent in my goal to persuade lawmakers to make theatre more accessible to people around the world regardless of their economic backgrounds, physical abilities, or other roadblocks. I will continue to help community and school theatres bring American Sign Language interpreters to their performances and invite disabled individuals into their casts, crews, and audiences. I hope to continue holding workshops about how to make theatre more inclusive to people with disabilities.

Barrett Edwards

Barrett Edwards

Barrett Edwards, Troupe 4274

How has theatre impacted your life?
I honestly can’t imagine my life without theatre; it has shaped me into the person I am today. I live in a rural, Midwestern town with a liberal arts college, and it often feels like there is a divide between the college and the community. Through the work of our local arts organization, theatre has helped bridge that gap. Participating in these arts programs as a child exposed me to new people from different parts of my community and had a great impact on me. It exposed me to an atmosphere of inclusion and offered me a place to be my authentic self. Additionally, theatre has allowed me to explore different parts of my identity and see beyond external societal barriers. Though playing various characters, I have explored gender, sexuality, and personality. Theatre is a place where everyone can see themselves and learn about the other. This is why theatre is often aligned with social justice issues, acceptance, and freedom. It offers a safe community of positivity that has impacted so many people. Theatre has increased my self-confidence, self-understanding, communication skills, and served as a uniting vehicle in my town. For that, I am extremely thankful.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
Theatre has instilled in me the importance of communication. Communication may be the single most important aspect of life. Theatre taught me how to effectively communicate and collaborate with others, skills that are important in every aspect of personal and professional life. During productions, I learned how to communicate verbally, physically, and emotionally with my peers, directors, and audience members. Theatre taught me how to listen to different sides of a conversation or argument and empathize with people who have different views. From calling light cues or building sets to performing onstage, tailoring costumes, or managing props, it truly takes a village to put together a successful production. That village requires good communication. On a greater scale, theatre represents the kind of collaboration lacking in society today. Through my arts education, I have learned how to respect and work with those who think differently. This is what the arts teach kids all over the world. While that sounds simple, these are the very skills many of our leaders today lack.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
My favorite theatre experience thus far has been being an STO for Iowa Thespians. There are so many different opportunities to be involved in theatre onstage and off, and advocating for the arts is what I am most passionate about. Whether it be through social media, conversations with neighbors, or lobbying elected officials, I love spreading awareness about the International Thespian Society. Being an STO taught me to be an effective leader and team member. I am inspired by all members of my state Thespian board. Getting to work with them has been so fun and rewarding. We all have great goals and working to achieve them together has been a wonderful experience. From meeting awesome people at ThesFest and seeing shows around my state to having six-hour group calls, I am extremely grateful to be an STO.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
I think one of my greatest strengths is my collaborative nature. I work well as a member of a diverse team to accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently. To me, part of being a good leader is being a good listener. When I am working on projects I am passionate about, I make it a priority to communicate and collaborate with as many people as possible. For example, I have heard many of my peers express their disappointment about their canceled spring shows. Because of this, I’m working now on a virtual cabaret in Iowa to give Thespians a way to perform material from their canceled shows online. I have been emailing adult board members, collaborating with other STOs, and talking to Thespians in Iowa to determine the best course of action. I would love to work on virtual events like this on an international level. One of my other strengths is social media outreach. I coordinate social media operations for my troupe as well as my state Thespian chapter, and I have a lot of social media ideas and insights I can offer. I am extremely driven and always looking for new opportunities and projects to work on. I constantly have new ideas for Thespian outreach and am willing to work to make them a reality. Finally, I’m a very cheerful person and always try to lift others up because my theatre family has lifted me up.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
As an ITO, I would work to serve EdTA’s mission of honoring student achievement, supporting theatre educators, and influencing public opinion about the importance of arts education. To do this, I would combine my two passions: theatre and activism. I would work with ITS to inspire change, from classrooms to the capital. In a political climate as polarized as ever, and in this global pandemic, the arts can be a healing and unifying force. I would use my platform as an ITO to organize and advocate for theatre. As an STO, I have had inspiring conversations with my representatives in Iowa about the importance of arts education. During Theatre in Our Schools Month, I would organize and promote more advocacy events at state capitals and in D.C. I would continue to use my platform to reach out to legislators. Additionally, I would love to organize a national letter writing campaign to encourage Thespians everywhere to raise their voices to government leaders. As an ITO, I would also love to work to establish a sister-troupe program where Thespians and theatre directors can connect with other troupes. Sister-troupes could support each other, share ideas, and maintain communication throughout the year. I would work to expand social media recognition to highlight the stories of Thespians. For example, in addition to “Faces of ITS,” we could have a spotlight interview series on YouTube where ITOs interview students and troupe directors. We could use this series to expand recognition for technicians, who often don’t receive as much recognition as actors; highlight the benefits of having a troupe; and showcase troupes in areas with financially at-risk, yet beautiful arts programs. Through social media, we can shine a light on theatre stories from around the world. Hearing from other students is the best way to get Thespians invested and passionate. There are inspiring stories that need to be heard. Through this campaign, we can support EdTA’s mission and continue the fight for arts education.

Emerson Eveleth

Emerson Eveleth

Emerson Eveleth, Troupe 6547

How has theatre impacted your life?
The impact theatre has had on my life is extraordinary. Theatre has given me a place to learn, to grow, and to fully express myself. I have made friends for a lifetime, and all of them have truly become family. My directors, my choreographers, the crew, the cast, and all the other amazing people that help put a performance together have taught me what it means to be a great performer and person.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
One lesson I have learned from theatre is that it takes a village to make a show. There are so many little tasks and jobs done behind the scenes that contribute extensively to the show’s success. Every crew and cast member matters. Everyone’s job is important because it takes everyone working together to put on the beautiful form of art that is theatre.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
My favorite theatre experience, hands down, is the International Thespian Festival. ITF allowed me to meet so many other passionate Thespians and provided lasting memories. I got to watch amazing performances, both on the main stage but also through marvelous Thespys. I also got to participate in amazing workshops while learning from some of the best in this industry. ITF is an amazing opportunity, and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to participate.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
My key strengths are great leadership and organizational skills, a strong passion for theatre and Thespians, determination, and a strong work ethic. All these skills are very important for an individual, but also for working on a team to further the ITOs’ vision. Finally, as a very strong advocate for the arts, I will always fight for every voice of this massive ITS family to be heard, valued, and have access to quality programs.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
EdTA’s mission is to shape lives through theatre education, and that would be my mission if I was given the opportunity to serve. I strongly believe that everybody’s voice matters. I will choose to use my voice to help educate other people, as well as Thespians, about how theatre programs are crucial to building life skills and careers that can extend beyond high school. I will choose to use my voice to advocate for the arts and spread my love for theatre. I will choose to use my voice to show how theatre has changed my life and given me a home. Being an ITO would give me the chance to help shape, inspire, and change someone else’s life through theatre. I feel this goal would be serving EdTA to the fullest.

Deric Fernandez

Deric Fernandez

Deric Fernandez, Troupe 6647

How has theatre impacted your life?
Theatre has played such a huge part in my development not only as a leader but also as a person. I started theatre at my school when I was in fifth grade. It was my first real acting experience, and it was as if I felt destined to be there. My troupe director, Meegan Gliner, came up to me and shared how excited she was to see me get involved. She later told me I was “a natural-born leader.” I, of course, chuckled and did not realize she had just placed a seed in me that would push me constantly to be my best and strive for excellence. In middle school, I really noticed how much I loved being backstage and coordinating instead of being in the spotlight. I fell in love with being a techie, which is probably why 75% of my clothes are black. Being a Thespian has taught me so many life lessons and has given me one huge family that goes beyond the borders of my state and country. I would not change my experience as a theatre kid one bit because it made me who I am today.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
One of the most important lessons theatre taught me is taught to almost every actor. “The show must go on” is always said in theatre but applies to all aspects of life. Constantly hearing that taught me to push forward no matter the limitations. In the most recent production I directed, one of the main actors got sick. Having such a small cast, I had to step up. I had not acted since middle school, so my nerves were killing me, but I knew the show had to go on. So, I put on a costume and went onstage. Everything was weird at first, but the show came together in the end, thanks to the help of the wonderful cast. This perseverance taught me to look for the positive in life and always to search for the best in situations. I can confidently say that, without this lesson, I would not have become the person I am today. This lesson taught me to get back up when I had fallen the hardest and felt I couldn’t keep fighting. It also taught me I should not allow things to get in the way of seeking what makes me happy. I am extremely confident these lessons will follow me in all my pursuits and will remind me to always take time to reflect and push forward.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
Theatre has brought me so many great and life-changing experiences, but one of the top experiences I had was directing my first production. Directing is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken because of the amount of time and passion it takes to put on a show. Being a student director means you need to balance all your other priorities while making sure you produce a show that properly tells the story in the way the writer intended. The first show I directed was a middle school production which, though rewarding, added a whole new level of stress. I was basically a director and babysitter, which is not a good mix. Luckily, the young actors were a great bunch and always found a way to make me laugh and smile. I joined theatre at a very young age, so I know firsthand how important it is that a director is caring and appreciative of your talents while also running a good show. When you direct someone’s first show it is especially important you are a good role model because this is when most people either fall in love with theatre or never want to do it again. After my first rehearsal, I knew I had to throw away all those ideas I had about being strict because I needed to build a relationship with these young actors so they could see how fun and accepting theatre was. It was challenging to always be positive even though sometimes I wanted to leave and never come back. Those kids kept pushing and taught me how to be a kind and compassionate director. All these things may seem like reasons to hate directing, but they made me fall in love with storytelling. I would never change this experience no matter how frustrating it was because it cemented my love for theatre.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
The position of International Thespian Officer requires a lot of commitment but most importantly a love of theatre and advocacy and how they can be used to influence change. As an ITO, I believe I would bring my relentless passion for change and advocacy and use my position to bring a voice to the voiceless. I choose to use theatre as an outlet for change, and I wholeheartedly believe that, if given the opportunity, I would dedicate every moment to ensuring that theatre students around the country and globe have equal representation and that their arts programs have the resources to help students of all backgrounds. I know that as an ITO, I would bring my passion for advocacy and equality to push for change to ensure all arts students feel included and wanted in this huge family we have built. I know we can use our shared love for theatre and the arts to make change and use our collective resources to ensure everyone feels welcomed and loved in our family. All these attributes have made me the person I am today and are things that would push me to constantly strive for the best as an ITO.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
Being an ITO means I am representing EdTA as a Thespian 24 hours a day. The leadership skills gained from being a Thespian have demonstrated to my school’s administration that I am capable of being a leader in all aspects of the word, regardless of the situation or limitations. Being a Thespian has trained me to use the International Thespian Society’s core values of striving for excellence and understanding the power of caring for one another. When I attended last year’s ITO-led leadership seminar at the 2019 International Thespian Festival, I learned the importance of advocacy and how it was my responsibility as a Thespian to advocate for those who have been silenced, using the voice I have to push for change both in my troupe and my state. Using this newfound love for advocacy, I pushed to update our troupe’s mission to focus our state festival play to highlight stories of those who have been silenced by our society. For example, this year, I selected and directed a play that discussed police brutality because this is often a subject overlooked and not discussed in theatre. All this shows how I put my troupe first and how we can use the power of theatre to advocate and educate others.

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales, Troupe 6371

How has theatre impacted your life?
Theatre has given me a place not only to discover but also to embrace who I am as an individual. In the past, I have done dance, orchestra, cheer, and choir, but those things made me obsessed with being like everyone else for the sake of artistic unity. While I still have a place in my heart for them, theatre has shown me the beauty of diversity and individuality. My troupe was the first group I felt I could call a second family, and for that I am most grateful.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
Breathe. This applies to a myriad of situations, from calming performance nerves to projection technique to reeling in frustration. I constantly remind myself to trust in my preparation and simply do my best to control what I can and let go of what I cannot. Taking a second to breathe centers me. It has been my go-to relaxation exercise.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
There are so many! If I were to choose a favorite, it would be the experience of performing A Year with Frog and Toad for hundreds of elementary schoolers. Absolutely nothing can compare to how moved I was to see so many young people engaged — even mimicking the choreography — during the show. I heard a bunch of stories about children coming home singing the songs, and it makes me incredibly happy to know our hard work had a positive impact on them. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing the fruits of my team’s labor inspiring another group. It has by far been my favorite show.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
I have experience in and a strong passion for social networking, web design, digital media, and event management. My primary leadership skills include ambition, organization, dedication, and commitment. When working on special projects, I am known to act on the “what ifs.” If I have a seemingly far-reaching idea that can take things to another level, I will do everything I can to make it happen. I absolutely love what I do and will go above and beyond to make sure people are given the best opportunities and experiences possible.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
Due to my personal background, I am very passionate about providing opportunities to minorities and advocating for diversity and inclusion in the arts. I hold strong to my belief that socioeconomic status should never hold someone back from pursuing their passion and would love to delve into raising funds to provide more grants and scholarships. I also want to implement a College Preparation Program for high school juniors and seniors planning to pursue a theatre major by connecting high school Thespians with college Thespian mentors from around the world. These mentors would make sure the students are keeping up with deadlines, look over their portfolios and prescreens, and encourage them throughout the process. I am completely open to exploring any other wants of the people.

Cloe Madison

Cloe Madison

Cloe Madison, Troupe 2978

How has theatre impacted your life?
Painter Gerhard Richter said, “Art is the highest form of hope,” and that’s what theatre means to me. Theatre gave me a passion when I thought I might never find one. It gave me hope for the future and continues to give me hope every day. I would love to help others find their passion and share the hope that art and theatre provides.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
Theatre taught me that growth is always possible. From school productions to state conferences, there are endless opportunities to grow as a Thespian, leader, and person. Stage management is my favorite area of theatre, and I’ve come to understand and appreciate the value of lifelong learning. Being a stage manager has allowed me to grow so much, and it’s a theme reinforced in every area of theatre.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
Last summer, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to advocate for theatre education. I spoke with senators and representatives from my state about important topics related to theatre education and was a voice for the many theatre students in Nevada. It was amazing to work with people from all over the country in an effort to achieve a similar goal. I’ve fallen in love with advocacy almost as much as I have theatre, and I’m very excited to have a chance to make an even bigger impact.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
Leadership is an integral part of ITS, and I believe I can contribute to that. I’m currently serving my second year as a State Thespian Officer. In that time, I’ve gathered an understanding and knowledge of different aspects of leadership. This has led me to work toward the creation of a program that would bring leadership training and resources to theatre students and teachers. As an International Thespian Officer, this program would have the potential to create a much bigger impact and, in doing that, strengthen ITS. Along with this, I believe I can bring an element of drive and passion that is so important to everything ITS does.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
Every day theatre is shaping lives, and I’m very passionate about working to improve and promote theatre education in a way that allows students to grow. An international platform comes with the incredible opportunity to empower students and provide them with the leadership and advocacy skills they need to create change within their communities and states, particularly through workshops and similar experiences. Equally important, I would bring awareness to and fundraising for programs that strive to provide opportunities to underserved students and schools. I am committed to collaborating with programs like JumpStart Theatre and Theatre in Our Schools to assist in fundraising and spreading their message. I feel these things, combined with an international platform, have the undeniable ability to shape countless lives.

Noah Manzanares

Noah Manzanares

Noah Manzanares, Troupe 3183

How has theatre impacted your life?
When I was a little boy, my mom’s high heels and mascara were my safe place. Dressing up and putting on a show gave me the type of freedom I never had access to at school or soccer practice. As I matured, I realized society has incredible suppressive tendencies when someone different starts outwardly expressing themselves. When I was first exposed to the community that theatre offers, I never wanted to go back. It’s an art form fueled by so much passion and impossible to do without some understanding of empathy. I think that is so special in bringing so many types of people together. We’ve built a world that has the capability to exist beyond prejudice and exclusion, and it’s our job to keep working on that.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
How much power empathy holds. People talk about different metaphorical attributes languages have. For example, Spanish and French are said to be languages of love. Music has been said to be the language of the soul. I believe theatre is the language of empathy. It has taught me how to step aside from myself to give respect and understanding to a character, event, or relationship that I may never have experienced personally. I think having empathy makes the possibility of making a positive impact on someone so much more achievable.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
Last summer, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Michigan for three weeks and study musical theatre at Interlochen Arts Camp. Immediately when I got there, I realized how many different cultures, countries, and talents were represented by my fellow campers. I made so many unforgettable connections with people from Shanghai all the way to a new friend who ended up being from my own town and school.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
Aside from my passion for people and understanding of meaningful connections, I’m always thinking about the big picture. With that as a priority, I give even more of my attention to detail. I think my approach to things like enhancing social media engagement, Thespian networking, and bringing people together is unique and stronger because of it. Most importantly, I always want to keep the conversation open. There is no way to excel as leaders or members of society without bringing up the touchy subjects and discussing them. I promise to always handle situations of prejudice or exclusivity with grace and compassion.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
Obviously, we are at an unprecedented time in history. That being said, we are given two options. We can use this time to let fear dim our shine, or we can start now to improve within and pave the way to come out of this as stronger, more equipped versions of ourselves. I plan to use the platform as International Thespian Officer not only to engage with Thespians everywhere on what they feel needs to be on the discussion table but also to collaborate with my fellow officers as this pandemic continues with forward thinking to pioneer new opportunities to celebrate theatre under ever-changing circumstances.

Isabelle Snyder

Isabelle Snyder

Isabelle Snyder, Troupe 5029

How has theatre impacted your life?
For as long as I can remember, theatre has been my most valued source of community. With worries about everything from homework to college plans occupying my mind, high school can be chaotic. But, no matter how anxious I am on any given day, it all seems to melt away when I walk into rehearsal. Over years of working with my peers to stage production after production, I have formed a second family bursting with love and laughter. ITS is unique in its ability to unite people of different backgrounds, and I can personally attest to this power. It has given me my best friends and a sense that, even in the hardest of times, I have a warm and loving community to fall back on. In this time of social distancing, my Thespian family has been instrumental in maintaining a sense of connection, and I know now more than ever that my Thespian community is truly invaluable.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
Theatre has taught me so much: how to collaborate, value multiple perspectives, work with focus and dedication, and perhaps more literally, how to “cheat out,” sew a hem, and run in character shoes. Suffice it to say, theatre has been a constant source of instruction and growth for me over the past few years, and the lessons I have learned are innumerable. However, the most important lesson theatre taught me by far is the power of my own voice. A year into middle school, I moved across the country and started sixth grade with no friends in a state I had entered for the first time just weeks before. I remember feeling shy and scared, constantly biting my tongue and trying my best to navigate the winding halls. I wasn’t sure who I was or how to speak up until I joined my middle school’s drama club, and a few years later, ITS. Theatre taught me that my voice matters. Not only does it matter, it also has the power to cause positive change. In learning to speak up in front of an audience, I realized I could speak up in real life too. Activism, leadership, encouragement — all would be impossible without the early seeds planted by my directors and fellow company members. Theatre has empowered me to use my voice while remaining grounded and genuine, and it allowed me to better connect with people from all walks of life.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
Though I love performing, and stepping into a character to analyze a Shakespearean monologue brings me a very nerdy level of joy, my favorite theatre experience so far has been a technical position I held in my school’s production of Newsies last spring. I loved the show, the music, and the epic dance numbers, and I was heartbroken when a long-term commitment meant I would be out of town for a majority of the production’s run. I realized I would be unable to audition, and though I knew I would have an opportunity to perform again in our cabaret in early June, I was devastated at the thought of missing rehearsals with my closest friends. Just as I was preparing to step back, my director approached me wondering if I would be interested in serving as the dramaturg. Knowing my love of history and public speaking, she wondered if I would give presentations to the cast, assist in running character workshops and improv games, and put together a program note and informational display outside our auditorium. I was thrilled and jumped at the prospect of getting to discuss amazing history with my Thespian community. I am so grateful to my director for finding a way to help me share in the joy of Newsies, even when I couldn’t participate in the way I originally anticipated. And though I still love performing, I was able to gain a new appreciation for the hard, often unsung work of our student techies. Thespians is a remarkable organization that is uniquely multifaceted and includes students of diverse backgrounds and abilities. Through Newsies and my work as a dramaturg, I formed deeper relationships with Thespians I had previously not had a chance to work with and more deeply understand the multitalented individuals that make up Thespians.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
For as long as I can remember, I have had a keen awareness of those struggling around me. I have seen anxieties, worries, and questions, and I have been able to empathize. This empathy is something that continues to this day, but it doesn’t stop there. I believe it is not enough simply to be aware of the struggles within your community; you have to act. As an ITO, I will use my action-driven mindset in service of the global Thespian community. Additionally, theatre has taught me that true community is at its best when not dominated by one narrative but instead shared by many. Our strength is our diversity, and as an ITO, I will serve the diverse perspectives and interests of Thespians globally. I value listening above all else and view it as the most powerful tool in enacting real change. In listening to you — your thoughts and ideas and concerns — ITS can better serve and celebrate Thespians. Finally, I persevere. Over the past few years serving as a student government official in my own school, I have had difficult conversations with principals, teachers, and even the school board and superintendent. But despite my discomfort, I persevered in the knowledge that sharing student concerns and ideas was important. I believe deeply that every voice matters and deserves to be heard. As an ITO, I will strive for greater equity within our organization, meeting students where they are and recognizing their varied needs and concerns. I will listen to you, empathize with you, and work to make the already remarkable Thespian community even more inclusive and unified.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
When I think about ITS, and the principles at the core of EdTA’s mission, I remember the Thespian motto: Act well your part; there all the honor lies. We are all working to tell stories, better ourselves, and grow our technical and performance skills. ITS, by nature, is a compilation of troupes doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. However, when it comes to celebrating remarkable theatre or outstanding achievements, we too often recognize only one kind of troupe. In festivals and on social media, we honor troupes that, due to their size and wealth, are able to stage large productions with state-of-the-art tech. We see these shows, incredible and often overwhelming in their glamour, and we forget the equally valuable work of smaller, less established troupes. I believe a group of dedicated Thespians striving for excellence, despite a small budget or a community that chooses not to embrace them, deserves as much celebration as the largest, well-funded productions. Theatre comes in all shapes and sizes and should be honored as such. As an ITO, I will work to address the wealth gap that currently exists in our conferences and social media platforms and work to deepen our sense of the complexity of theatre. When presented with only one narrative of what excellence looks like — usually large, expensive main stages — we forget the value in smaller productions. I hope to change this single-narrative structure, allowing troupes of all shapes and sizes to get to know one another through a buddy system. In deepening our connection with other troupes, across state and even country lines, our definition of theatre can grow. When we deepen our sense of community and understanding of diversity, we all grow, and our conferences will reflect this shifting mindset. As an ITO, I hope to honor and serve all theatre and all Thespians, recognizing the inherent worth in all troupes, not just the large and well-funded. Your work, no matter how big or small, deserves to be celebrated.

Maura Toole

Maura Toole

Maura Toole, Troupe 7993

How has theatre impacted your life?
Theatre taught me what it means to work collaboratively with a team. It has become my creative outlet, with which I can share my thoughts and feelings with friends and family. It is a way to bond with people I care about immensely and meet new people I grow to care about immensely. Every day, it gives me a way to understand the world and the people in it. Theatre taught me empathy and emotional strength. And, it taught me so much about resilience and servant leadership. I find theatre so beautiful because everything we do on and offstage is transferable to all our lives and so shapes who we all, as theatre kids, are.

What is one lesson you’ve learned from theatre?
I like to joke that the biggest lesson I’ve learned from theatre is that dancing is hard … I’m a really bad dancer. But, in all seriousness, theatre taught me that, sometimes, making a fool of myself is OK and can be really constructive. I’ve learned how to take risks (dancing is definitely one) and developed confidence to stand behind my convictions outside of theatre and be unafraid to be bold. I hope to hang on to this lesson long after I have taken my last bows because I have found that to have confidence, be bold, and not be afraid to look like a fool is kinda beautiful.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
I’ve been lucky to have a lot of amazing theatre experiences, including serving EdTA as an International Thespian Officer. But my favorite is definitely taking my first bows on my high school stage. I was in John Cariani’s Lovesick and was onstage for 11 minutes and 37 seconds (I counted!). It was amazing to take bows with the older classmates I looked up to so much and who had been so kind and inclusive to me. In that moment, I realized this was exactly where I was supposed to be. And I have worked since then to create that same feeling for students younger than me so they too know they belong.

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
Something I have enjoyed a lot about serving as an International Thespian Officer over the past year is that I have had the opportunity to learn about and refine my strengths and identify personal opportunities for growth. One of my greatest strengths is I am always working to develop a clear understanding of what servant leadership looks like, and I always strive to approach my leadership with this in mind. As an empath who also values rationality in leadership, I naturally consider equity in every situation, often enriching discussion of initiatives by broadening perspective. During my time as an ITO, I have become a very confident communicator and have developed the skill of making complex ideas simple for others to understand. But I am always inclined to actively listen before I speak. I am quick to see skills and talents in other people and so am good at delegating for a team to be most successful. And I am resilient and work to encourage resiliency in teammates in all my actions. Above all else, I am endlessly curious about nearly everything. I am really good at asking questions and operate from the perspective that there is always more to learn. This means, as a leader, I am eternally looking for ways to grow so that every day I can better be of service to the student members of the International Thespian Society, which is what the role of ITO is all about.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
As a student leader who is passionate about supporting other student leaders, there are several ways I hope to continue to serve EdTA’s mission to shape the lives of students through theatre. I have had the unique opportunity to experience and contribute to EdTA’s mission and have seen how the organization has a significant impact on students who attend their state festivals or ITF. However, I have been challenged to consider how the organization, and the ITO program, can better reach students who do not ever attend EdTA events. The work the ITO team has done this year to give students access to resources that can inform effective leadership is a good start (more details on this project to come soon to Schooltheatre.org and @ThespianSociety on Instagram). In my next ITO term, I would love to work with the International Thespian Student Leadership Council to evaluate the effectiveness of these resources and further develop them to meet Thespians’ needs. I would also love to work with the next ITO team to make leadership and advocacy workshops available online, accessible at any time by any student. Additionally, it would be beneficial to work with newly elected STO boards to build leadership workshops they can teach at troupe meetings in their area so that more theatre students have access to leadership training. As I interacted with Thespians across the country, I noticed that my peers are excited to be engaged in political arts advocacy. By working with STO boards and their liaisons to build Arts Advocacy Days or to find ways Thespians can be involved in advocacy events in their states, the ITOs can give students incredible agency to make change. I would love to see the ITOs equip students with resources and knowledge to take nonpartisan political action in favor of arts education.

Bailey Whitley

Bailey Whitley

Bailey Whitley, Troupe 7333

How has theatre impacted your life?
I am who I am today because of theatre. Without theatre, I would still probably be that shy, introverted girl who never talked and always stayed in the shadows. Being a Thespian has given me a family that has my back no matter the circumstances. The love I receive pushes me to be a better person every day. Every time those curtains are opened, I become the best version of myself, and that is something I will forever cherish.

What is one lesson you have learned from theatre?
Theatre taught me that sometimes things are not meant to be. The rejection of a role could be crushing to a person’s spirit — I would know — but I don’t let it bother me much. I am a firm believer in fate. Things happen for a reason. Not getting the role you wanted only means you are destined for something greater in life. Rejection gives me the opportunity to come back better than ever.

What has been your favorite theatre experience so far?
My favorite theatre experience so far is being elected a STO of Louisiana Thespians this year. Our state Thespian festival was amazing in general, but nothing compares to the wave of emotions that flooded me when I received the position. As soon as they announced my name onstage, all I could hear was overwhelming support from my troupe. I almost cried — from happiness, of course!

What strengths would you bring to ITS as an ITO?
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you I am quite obsessive. When I have a goal in mind, I will not stop until I achieve it. In my opinion, ITS needs that. Clubs always have amazing ideas passed around, but sometimes those ideas never see the light of day. I am not afraid to be that driving force that gets stuff done.

If given the opportunity, how would you serve EdTA’s mission on an international leadership platform?
The mission of EdTA is to advocate for the arts and create awe-inspiring experiences for students. As an officer of my troupe, I already feel as though I do that and more. The title of ITO would allow me to reach even more theatre youth across America. There are a great many creative minds that do not receive the same opportunities in theatre I do. My goal would be to grow theatre communities everywhere so that everyone could experience the wondrous world of theatre.

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