In Lincoln, Nebraska, they know a thing or two about high school theatre. Troupe 6547 of Lincoln Southwest High School has been selected to perform their production of Newsies on the Main Stage at the 2021 International Thespian Festival! This year’s festival is virtual, and you can see the show in prime time with your all-access pass. We’re excited for the curtain to go up!

We asked Bob Heinrichs, Troupe 6547’s director, how they handled production and performing during the pandemic school year of 2020. His answers and many of his students’ comments follow.

Why is the show referred to as Newsies 2.0?

The show was chosen for Lincoln Southwest’s season long before COVID-19 existed. Just three weeks from opening night, the school was shut down. The students had done all the work, all the rehearsing, everything. The troupe had also spent 90% of its budget, and were going to lose their much-needed box office revenue!

They were hopeful that they’d be able to perform the show later, in May 2020, and then maybe over the summer, and then again maybe at the beginning the 2021 school year. It was to be a huge effort to make up the gigantic miss in the budget. Then, in 2021, the school district required that the troupe not only make up that box office deficit from 2020, but to also be in the black for all the other productions by the end of the school year.

The biggest disappointment was losing all the graduated seniors from the original cast and crew. In the fall of 2021, the district restricted alumni, parents, outside groups, etc., from coming into the school buildings, so even though the troupe wanted the graduated students to come back and perform, they couldn’t.

The troupe lost many of its leads, cast members, and crew members including several crew chiefs and the entire stage management team. It was a gut punch! Those students worked so hard on the show, only to be unable to perform it. The program ended up listing the graduated seniors, and the production was dedicated to them. Hence, the production was dubbed Newsies 2.0.

Newsie scene Lincoln Southwest High School 2021

A scene from “Newsies” performed by Lincoln Southwest High School, Troupe 6547.

The Struggle Was Real and They Met the Challenge!

In August 2020 they held auditions for Newsies 2.0, for the roles and crew positions vacated by seniors. Almost half of the cast and crew were either brand new or in a different role or crew position. They started over again.

At the beginning of November 2021, one month away (again) from getting to perform this show, the district came out with different COVID-19 protocols. Cast, crew, and audience would have to be masked. Only 150 audience members would be admitted per performance , and only immediate family members could attend. All others would have to watch via the live stream.

Again, a great deal of revenue was lost. The theatre program was in dire straits. However, through audience support, ticket sales, donations, and “belt tightening” during the spring production of Mamma Mia! they made up last year’s deficit and are in the black for this year!

The icing on the cake for the troupe, after all these challenges, was to be selected as a Main Stage performance at ITF 2021. This is Lincoln Southwest High School’s third trip to the ITF Main Stage. Their previously selected shows were Black Elk Speaks in 2007 and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in 2015. Three Main Stage shows in the school’s 19-year history is quite an accomplishment.

Despite the myriad challenges, what were some of the rewards?

Avery Olson, junior (Katherine)
It felt great to be performing again. After almost a year of rehearsing, it was so amazing to finally share with everyone what all of us had been working towards for so long.

Michaela Boyd, junior (Costume & Publicity Crews)
The most rewarding experience is the new sense of togetherness and love that we all have for each other. Being away from one another for so long created an empty void, and when we were finally able to be together again, it was bittersweet. I made sure to take in every single moment. I vividly remember hearing the overture on opening night and shedding a few tears because I could not believe we’d gotten this far.

Kaylee McClain, senior (Scenery Crew)
The most rewarding experience for me was meeting people. I met some of my good friends because of Newsies. We all became a family. Also, just singing, watching, and listening every night was so amazing. Everyone gave something special for that show. It took a lot, but in the end, I wouldn’t change anything about it.

Skyler Meinecke, freshman (Costume Crew)
The most rewarding part of producing this musical was the feeling of anxiousness and excitement you get when you see the curtain rise on opening night because there’s always something special about that moment – and more so this year. 

Bob Heinrichs is the Director of Theatre for Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. He’s the founding Director of Theatre at Lincoln Southwest High School, and a past president of Educational Theatre Association’s Board of Directors (1999-2001). You can find Bob on LinkedIn.

Patty Craft is content manager for

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