The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) recognizes schools whose theatre programs exemplify and promote high standards of quality in educational theatre with the Outstanding School Award. This year only four schools in the nation were honored: James A. Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington; Leavenworth Senior High School in Leavenworth, Kansas; Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane, Washington; and Woodmont High School in Piedmont, South Carolina.
The James A. Garfield High School theatre program (above in a production of Rent), home to Thespian Troupe 5417 under the direction of Stewart Hawk, was recognized for creating a professional and collaborative theatre environment where the students are empowered with the responsibility to lead in all aspects of the productions. All sets, costumes, and props are made in-house by the students in self-directed projects. Students are encouraged to collaborate on different parts of the production, with actors often participating in set building and props management. Theatre parent Jill MacCorkle said, “What sets Garfield apart is fearlessness, ambition, and trust. These are qualities brought to the program by both the teacher, Stewart Hawk, and by the students themselves. When it comes to challenging students to grow through theatre and the arts, these three qualities make Garfield an outstanding program.”
The Leavenworth Senior High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 287, under the direction of Jennifer Morgan-Beuchat, was recognized for their preparation and presentation of outstanding school performances while also serving their community through outreach efforts. The students produce 12 shows a year in addition to leading theatre camps for elementary students, performing for hospital patients, and they even advocated for the creation of a drama program at the middle school level. In 2018, the Leavenworth theatre program was one of only 50 in the nation to win a R.I.S.E. America grant for $10,000 from NBC and the Educational Theatre Foundation. The grant, which covered a portion of the cost for a new stage floor, generated positive attention throughout the school community, resulting in additional support from the Leavenworth Unified School District to provide the rest of the funds needed to pay for the floor upgrade. Thespian Troupe 287 was also recently awarded First Place Outstanding Impact Award for their support of Theatre in Our Schools Month 2019.
The Lewis & Clark High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 6356 under the direction of Suzanne Maguire and Greg Pschirrer, was recognized for fostering a collaborative environment to promote comprehensive and innovative instruction. They have incorporated cross-curricular studies with the English department, and the school’s award-winning choir and band work alongside the troupe for most productions. Lewis & Clark High School created and piloted the first musical theatre class in their district and currently are the only school in Eastern Washington offering the class. Theatre students throughout the region choose the school for this offering. The theatre program’s mission focuses on the value of theatre education in developing skills for life. Maguire and Pschirrer provide an environment of encouragement and professionalism, guiding students through their career interests, resulting in former students graduating with college degrees in theatre.
The Woodmont High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 7407 under the direction of Harry Culpepper Jr. and Erin Gill, was recognized for creating an inclusive environment, working closely with coaches and clubs to ensure theatre is accessible to all students. Troupe 7407 also promotes school theatre in their community, volunteering with school and community organizations and participating in EdTA’s TOTS-Eat program. They hold outreach school matinee performances of their main stage and one-act productions, provide low cost theatre to local rural schools, and participate in state theatre festivals in South Carolina.