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 four schools in the nation were honored: Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania; Millard West High School in Omaha, Nebraska; New Albany High School in New Albany, Indiana; and Olathe South High School in Olathe, Kansas.
The Harry S. Truman High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 5008 under the direction of Tracey Gatte, was recognized for creating a professional theatre environment. Truman’s theatre program is the high school’s most popular and largest curriculum elective. In the 2018-19 school year Truman produced five musical productions including the premiere high school pilot production of Broadway’s Kinky Boots. Nationally known for its productions, Truman previously piloted Les Misérables, Rent,and Spring Awakening. Next year Truman will have two full-time theatre teachers offering Pre-AP theatre courses for 9th – 12th grade. Gatte hopes the Pre-AP courses developed by the College Board, will inspire students to think of theatre as the bridge to developing skills for life. Thespian Troupe 5008 was also the school inspiration behind Rise, the NBC TV series about former Truman drama teacher, and EdTA Hall of Fame member, Lou Volpe.
The Millard West High School theatre program home to Thespian Troupe 5483 under the direction of Brooke Phillips was recognized for fostering a collaborative theatre environment where students are empowered to work together. Collaboration is at the core of Millard’s theatre program. Thespians support other fine arts programs including Millard West’s band, choir, and orchestra to ensure theatre is accessible to all students. During the musical production of Bring It On, the troupe worked with a cheerleading squad to provide tips and tricks. Phillips is most proud of the community theatre partnership between Troupe 5483 and the Improv Academy, an improv program piloted by Millard West and 88 Improv where students develop stories, think on their feet, and develop characters. She says, “We are a service-oriented drama club. We work to put on quality shows that students and adults alike would be interested in seeing.”
The New Albany High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 4501 under the direction of Amy Miller, was recognized for presenting outstanding school performances. Last year, New Albany produced the Wizard of Oz, a musical that involved more than 75 high school actors, 90 elementary and middle school actors, 25 student technicians and 10 student musicians from area schools. Students built one of the largest sets New Albany audience members have ever seen and sold out every performance.
During the 2019-20 school year Troupe 4501 was one of three programs asked to pilot Broadway’s My Fair Lady: Student Edition, a production selected as a Main Stage show for the 2020 International Thespian Festival, an honor achieved by only 11 high school productions in the nation. This year’s event is being transformed into a virtual event taking place the last week of June. The virtual event will celebrate the schools selected for this honor, and feature streams or highlights from the productions.
The Olathe South High School theatre program, home to Thespian Troupe 5006 under the direction of David Hastings was recognized for fostering cross-curriculum studies and innovative instruction. In the 2019-20 school year the theatre program collaborated with Olathe’s math students to construct a geometry-based set. The troupe partnered with the English department to prepare students for the English-Speaking Union’s Shakespeare Competition. Last year, the social studies faculty helped Thespians prepare for the staged reading of Twelve Angry Jurors and built animal containers for their science student naturalist classes. Hastings says, “Our goal is to be involved in all parts of the school, as theatre is a part of life.” Beyond fostering collaborative instruction, Olathe South has brought several productions to Kansas Thespians State Festival and three shows to the International Thespian Festival including Trap, an original play by Stephen Gregg, where students played originated characters.