In 2019, the International Thespian Society (ITS) is marking the 90th anniversary of its founding with a yearlong celebration of the power of theatre to instill confidence, empathy, and compassion to build better communities.
ITS, the honor society of middle and high school students who participate in theatre in their schools, is a program of the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA). It was founded in Fairmont, W.Va., during the 1928-29 school year, chartering its first troupes in April 1929.
Today, EdTA reaches into nearly every corner of North America and beyond. It has 135,000 active members, publishes two bimonthly magazines, operates the premier international festival of school theatre and the leading professional development conference for theatre educators, has a philanthropic foundation, is the voice of theatre education in the halls of government at the local and national levels, and is a leader in the development of educational standards being adopted across the country.
And at its heart and core is ITS, created, in the words of its founders, to “better high school dramatics” and recognize participation in dramatics “as is true with high school athletics.” To qualify for induction into ITS, a student needs 100 hours of work in theatre arts.
In the 2018-19 school year, 59,000 new Thespians were inducted, and since its founding, ITS has honored more than 2.3 million theatre students, some of whom have become household names such as Kathy Bates, John Goodman, Tom Hanks, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Laurie Metcalf, Stephen Schwartz, and many others. All Thespians take the skills they gain in theatre — communication, collaboration, critical thinking — with them for the rest of their lives.
As EdTA Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald says, “While there are some Thespian alums whose names may be familiar in every household, when you ask any group of leaders to raise their hands if they participated in theatre at school, chances are the majority of hands will go up.”
She adds, “This year’s celebration is a shout-out for Thespian alums everywhere to re-engage with a special time in their lives that shaped them into the people they are today.”
One hallmark of being in ITS is having enhanced opportunities — for performance, for learning, for scholarships, and for leadership. For 30 years, ITS has been offering leadership training at the national level through the International Thespian Officer (ITO) program. As an ITO, a high school student gets intensive guidance in how to be a national representative of an organization, lead meetings, become an advocate with policy-makers, and more.
ITO alum Alex Minton of Troupe 5483, who upon his recent college graduation was offered a position with the competitive Ogilvy’s Associates Program, has become the most recent Thespian and ITO alum to give back to the organization that helped shape him. He will become a national advisor for the ITO as his predecessor, Thespian alum Scott Wilson of Troupe 4463, prepares to join the EdTA Board of Directors in July.
In a feature story for Dramatics, the organization’s flagship magazine specially tailored for students, Minton says, “The lessons I learned as a Thespian leader stick with me. My arts education laid the foundation of my professional skills. My experience taught me how to listen to the world around me, communicate my ideas in a confident manner, and always act well my part — for there all the honor lies.”
Thespians are generous about giving back to school theatre in many ways; thousands of Thespian alums have become Thespian troupe directors. And hundreds more serve on EdTA chapter boards, and as volunteers across the country. Thespian alumni in leadership roles at Disney, Hilton, McKinsey & Company, Netflix, Warner Horizon, and other leading companies serve on the national boards of EdTA and the Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF) including:
- Hunter Bell, Troupe 3423 alum; Tony-nominated playwright; EdTA Board of Directors; ETF Board of Trustees Vice Chair
- Matt Conover, Troupe 335 alum; Disney Parks Live Entertainment, Vice President of Disneyland Entertainment; EdTA Board of Directors; ETF Board of Trustees Chair
- Mark Drum, Troupe 6513 and ITO alum; actor, arts advocate; ETF Board of Trustees
- Kevin Fortson, Troupe 2129 alum; Warner Horizon Television, Senior Vice President of Production; ETF Board of Trustees
- Carolina Garcia, Troupe 2129 and ITO alum; Netflix, Director of Original Series; ETF Board of Trustees
- Alvin Katz, Troupe 1714 alum; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, Partner; ETF Board of Trustees
- Megan Tulac Phillips, Troupe 2527 and ITO alum; McKinsey & Company, Head of Marketing and Communications, Enterprise Agility; ETF Board of Trustees
- Mark Weinstein, Troupe 5464 and ITO alum; Hilton, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Customer Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships; ETF Board of Trustees
And Doug Booher, an alum of Troupe 1464 and the first class of ITO, is the director of events at Indiana University Bloomington, where the International Thespian Festival will be taking place beginning in 2020.
Reconnect with ITS. Follow #ThespianForever, #ITS90th and the #ThespiansOfNote campaign in social media.