IT WAS 2018, and I was sitting in the living room with my mom and my sister watching the NBC television show Rise. The three of us are really into musical theatre, my sister and I as both fans and performers. We knew the show was based on a teacher, Lou Volpe, who had taught at Truman High School, a school right in our very own Bucks County, and this made us extra interested.

We loved this show from the moment we started watching the first episode. As a freshman in high school at the time, I felt I was watching a more cinematic version of my life. Between all the drama, there was a lot of reality about what it’s like to be a theatre kid. What’s more, we were intrigued by the school’s quest to perform one of their shows in “Nebraska.” What was this event they so badly wanted to get to? Was that for real or just part of the TV drama? I thought it seemed awesome, the thought of preparing to attend an international theatre festival. I kept thinking how amazing it would be if that were real.

Well, my mom and I did some research, and as it turns out, this mystery festival exists! We found out that, each summer, the International Thespian Society holds a festival (which indeed was in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the past 20 years, before moving to Bloomington, Indiana, in 2020), and schools from across the country are selected to perform on the main stage. We began looking into how to become part of the International Thespian Society and found out our school, Central Bucks High School West, had previously been in the organization but had not inducted students since 1991. We mentioned the idea of rejoining ITS to our school drama director, Jessica Bostock, and she was totally on board.

Sierra Safran with her International Thespian Society induction certificate and special ceremony guest, Lou Volpe.
Sierra Safran with her International Thespian Society induction certificate and special ceremony guest, Lou Volpe. Photo courtesy of Sierra Safran.

Our first task was figuring out how many students were interested and whether they had enough points to be inducted. We determined that 27 students were eligible for induction. Since the 2020 Pennsylvania State Thespian Conference was quickly approaching, we got to work preparing for our induction ceremony. My mom had the idea of inviting the real Lou Volpe to speak at our induction ceremony, since he was indirectly the inspiration behind our troupe’s reinstatement and lived nearby.

Luckily, my dad was friends with Sandy Stefanowicz, a former Ridley High School drama and English teacher and personal friend of Lou Volpe. (Incidentally we got to see Ridley High School’s Troupe 2103 perform The Drowsy Chaperone at the state conference, and it was one of the best high school productions we have ever seen.) Sandy connected us with Lou Volpe, and he agreed to come to our inaugural induction ceremony! We were already feeling the community of the organization.

Truth be told, we were a little overwhelmed by all the details of getting our troupe reinstated, getting ready for the induction, and registering for the state conference, so we initially thought about just handing out certificates at a club meeting. But once Lou Volpe was confirmed, we decided to do something more formal. We turned to the information on the Thespian Society website to help us figure out what to do at our induction ceremony. We loved the idea of a candle ceremony and ended up adapting one of the formal programs suggested on the website.

At the ceremony, held November 12 in our school auditorium, our club officers read different parts of a speech recognizing aspects of theatre: song, dance, acting, and various technical arts. Lou Volpe then spoke to us about all the different people that make up a theatre program and about what to expect with our membership in the International Thespian Society. He told us that all his opportunities, including his involvement in the show Rise, happened because of this organization. Finally, Mr. Volpe led the inductees in the pledge, making us official members of Troupe 2115. It was an intensely meaningful evening that made us feel recognized as part of something larger than ourselves.

As each student was inducted, we shared a PowerPoint slide with their picture, rank, and a list of their shows and roles. At the end of the night, each inductee took home a gift bag with tea, chocolates, their certificate, a Thespian pin, and other goodies. We still did not quite know what we were getting into, but it certainly seemed exciting.

Our first activity as a troupe was a field trip to Truman High School to see them perform the high school theatre debut of the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. We were starstruck to be in this school, which has piloted so many high school versions of musicals under the direction of Mr. Volpe and now Tracey Gatte, the current director of Thespian Troupe 5008. The production was incredible! Lola was played by Junior Romy Patino, who we learned was making his acting debut. We were impressed by how much he sounded like the Broadway Lola. Our troupe was off to a good start. The state conference was up next.

Troupe 2115’s first official activity was attending the high school pilot of Kinky Boots at Truman High School.
Troupe 2115’s first official activity was attending the high school pilot of Kinky Boots at Truman High School. Photo courtesy of Sierra Safran.

The Pennsylvania State Thespian Conference was a weekend to remember. It was held January 2-4 at York College of Pennsylvania and the Appell Center for the Performing Arts Strand Theatre. From the moment we arrived, I knew I would love the entire thing. It was crazy to see so many passionate theatre kids just like all of us. The energy at all the shows was explosive. My mom helped chaperone the trip, and at one point, she had tears in her eyes just from the energy in the room.

You could feel everyone’s excitement, and it was wonderful to see how supportive all the students and teachers were of each other. After every show we watched, the audience roared with applause and cheers. And for good reason; the shows themselves were out of this world. I was blown away by all the incredible talent up onstage. The sets were also amazing, and I kept forgetting these were high school productions; they felt like fully produced, professional shows. As a new troupe, we were very excited to perform the musical number “All That Jazz” from our fall show in the Student Thespian Officer Select event.

Besides seeing several very well produced shows, taking workshops, and performing in Thespys events, we had great bonding time. I got to meet so many people and make new friends I’ve stayed in touch with since, but also see lots of friends I had met doing theatre outside of school. Downtime with my high school classmates was fun, too, because it’s not often you get to chill in hotels with a ton of your closest friends. Overall, the Thespian conference was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to go back next year. Our director is now busy reading one-act plays, because we’re hoping to present one at the state conference next year.

When I really think about it, this all happened because of Lou Volpe and the show Rise, based on his work with high school students and the International Thespian Society. Television shows may come and go — and we may not be taking a show of our own to the legendary ITF main stage while I’m a student at Central Bucks West — but, thanks to the powerful message behind that show, we have connected with an international network of passionate theatre students and paved the way for future members of Troupe 2115 to dream big. That is quite a legacy for theatre lovers at our school and Thespians elsewhere.

Troupe 2115 performs “All That Jazz” at the 2020 Pennsylvania State Thespian Conference.
Troupe 2115 performs “All That Jazz” at the 2020 Pennsylvania State Thespian Conference. Photo courtesy of Sierra Safran.
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