WHEN ARIZONA THESPIANS gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center in November for their annual chapter event, more than two dozen Arizona Thespian alumni were on hand to greet them and guide them through an exhilarating weekend of workshops, Individual Events, and performances.

“We would get a lot of kids saying, ‘I want to come back to festival. I want to come back to camp,’” Arizona Chapter Director Jenell Riordan said, “but we used to think, ‘You guys graduated. You can’t attend anymore.’”

But about seven years ago, chapter leadership in Arizona began looking for a way engage Thespian alumni, when an idea came to them from neighboring California. “We heard California had this alumni group of volunteers that came and helped out,” Riordan recalled. “We thought, ‘Hey, let’s try that.’” Since then, a five-person board of Arizona alums from across the state has formed, gradually growing the size and strength of the state’s Thespian alumni base. The group holds monthly meetings to plan for upcoming events and provides essential volunteer staff to the chapter’s annual festival and leadership camp.

“Specifically, their role is security,” Riordan said. “They’re in the halls, making sure that kids are going to the event. Then we use them to help out at the various events. They might be runners for IEs and scholarship auditions. They help us at the registration table. They will help man the Broadway Cares table. This year they helped with the tech challenge. So, they get used quite a bit.”

Alumni board member Joe-Benjamin Mauricio, an Arizona Thespian alum from Agua Fria High School’s Troupe 1033, serves as the group’s secretary in charge of alumni recruitment. Currently working on a bachelor’s degree at Estrella Mountain Community College at Arizona State University, Mauricio is an aspiring arts educator who loves the “family culture of being a Thespian” and wants to see that family continue well beyond high school. As a volunteer at Arizona’s festival, Mauricio has partnered with sponsors to manage IEs, sell merchandise, and support other volunteering alums.

Members of the Arizona Thespian alumni board

Members of the Arizona Thespian alumni board. Photo by Jenell Riordan.

When alumni are involved at the chapter level, Mauricio says, everyone benefits — Thespians and educators. “I think it is great to have alumni involved at the chapter level,” Mauricio said. “It shows the students all the great opportunities that come after being involved in a program for so long.”

For Riordan, it is gratifying to see alumni investing time and energy in the Arizona Thespian community. It’s a sign that the hard work of so many theatre educators is paying off, creating thoughtful young adults eager to share of themselves and grow the Thespian community that meant so much to them as teenagers.

Being an alumni volunteer at the state festival is not a glamorous job, she said. To do it well, you have to see the big picture and to believe in the benefits of the Thespian experience for all students involved.

“We really affected these kids when they were in high school, and now they really want to come back and help,” Riordan said. “To them, it’s not even the performance aspect of it. They just want to help out in any way that they can. They learn very quickly the different side of doing that instead of being an attendee. They say, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot that has to be done,’ and we say, ‘Uh … yeah.’”

Pulling back the curtain on a festival and fully understanding the amount of work and risk involved in putting such a big event on its feet is a powerful lesson in leadership for alumni, Riordan said. To be successful at running a festival, you have to put yourself aside and focus on providing the current Thespians in attendance with a positive, fun, and meaningful experience. For many alumni, that’s a difficult but valuable part of transitioning from high school Thespian to young adult alumni.

“You’re working hard. You’re running around the convention center making sure high school kids aren’t getting crazy,” Riordan said. “There is no way to be self-centered about it. A lot of times you get those kids that say, ‘I want to come back, because I want to be in the spotlight.’ That’s not what this is about. This is about running a festival. It’s like a show, but you’re backstage. Those that accept that concept of it are good leaders.”

Mauricio credits ITS for putting him on the path to achieving his dream of becoming a teacher. Being involved with a Thespian alumni group allows him to express his gratitude for his Thespian experience, while ensuring that others have access to the same festivals, connections, and life-changing learning that he did.

“Many of my colleagues I have now are doing successful things that sparked from being a Thespian as well as an alumni,” he said. “It gives and teaches gratitude. Every student has so many opportunities at festival, and now it is our chance to give back and allow the incoming generation to fulfill theirs. We get to give back.”

This story appeared in the February/March 2018 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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