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From the ITF Main Stage: Between the Lines

A Thespian from Bradford High School performing in Between the Lines.

The bright lights of the International Thespian Festival (ITF) main stage shine on the outstanding work of high school Thespians from across the country. Bringing their talents to the stage this summer is Thespian 4982 from Bradford High School, with their performance of Between the Lines.

Based on the book by New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, Between the Lines is an empowering and enchanting new musical for any of us seeking to find our place in the world.

An outsider in a new school, Delilah seeks comfort in the pages of her favorite book, where she feels heard and understood. But as the lines between the two worlds of fantasy and reality blur in extraordinary and astonishing ways, Delilah must confront whether she alone can rewrite her story. With overarching themes of self-empowerment, authenticity, and finding one’s voice, Between the Lines will resonate with anyone who’s ever found themselves trapped in a story they didn’t like.

EdTA chatted with troupe director Holly Stanfield; her co-director, Bradford alumni Benjamin Woods; and technical director Jodi Williams to get a peek behind the curtain.

1. Why this show? What was the spark or idea behind choosing it?

Holly Stanfield: I chose Between the Lines after reading the source book. The super-objective of the show, “live the story you want, if it’s not the story you’re in,” is especially relevant as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. We also found the score to this new musical engaging and fresh.

a group of Thespians from Bradford High School in Between the Lines.

2. How did you involve your students in the creative process and decision-making for the show?

Stanfield: [Woods] brought a new perspective to our process through SoulWork, an acting method he studied in college, that allows the student actors to communicate what they’ll bring to the process on a daily basis. Scenes were improvised before they were staged, and some of the choreographic work was also created with student input and ideas. On a personal level, this is my last year of teaching and directing at Bradford. Ben is interested in teaching theatre and is the perfect candidate to continue the program. He was excited to work with me on this production, and begin connecting with our students, staff, and the professional community we’ve worked with to create our program.

Benjamin Woods: One of the biggest things I preach is the importance of the ensemble – how everyone’s voice matters and shifting the focus from “me” to “we.” When it came to finding the lives of these characters, the kids played a big part in that process, and what they brought, we shaped.

Jodi Williams: From a tech standpoint… I like to allow them the opportunity to have input on solving construction challenges, contributing to process choices, and creating some of the artistic looks on stage. The students built and painted most of the books that make up the set, deciding how to arrange them, and what color and style the books would be (within guidelines). Having students take deep ownership of the process ties them to the show in a much more meaningful way.

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A Thespian from Bradford High School performing in Between the Lines.

3. Has your vision for the show evolved as you’ve gone through the process of preparing it for the ITF stage?

Stanfield: This is a pilot production of Between the Lines. As we’ve worked through the book and the score, we’ve been in contact with the playwright, Timothy Allen McDonald. We will be excited to incorporate some of the adjudicators’ thoughts when we remount the show in early June to prepare for our trip to ITF.

Woods: Yes, definitely. It is ever-evolving. Constantly changing. The vision and goal is always the same, but the process as to getting there continues to mold and transform every day.

Williams: Certainly. Any time you do a show, you always have 12 ideas for how to do it differently. This process has allowed us to make those changes and modify as we go, which has been a lot of fun.

4. Got a fun rehearsal moment, practice, or activity that’s helping you prep?

Woods: One of my favorite moments was diving into SoulWork. The whole idea of the method is to encourage exploration. Within the text, there are an infinite number of ways words, actions, and choices can be played. When we prescribe what a moment is, we limit ourselves from discovering those endless possibilities. It was beautiful to watch the kids give themselves permission to explore and discover new things in the text.

Williams: The kids who did much of the painting on the set are itching to get more time to detail. I am too!

a group of Thespians from Bradford High School in Between the Lines.

5. How do you balance the educational aspects with the artistic demands of directing a high school production?

Stanfield: We teach that storytelling is an essential life practice. The honesty, courage, empathy, and openness engendered by our theatre practice is the most important part of their participation in the craft of production. Strong storytelling is hard, exacting work, but the response to clearly understood objectives, physical timing, and committed voice and body work is worth the time and commitment it takes to craft a production.

Williams: I don’t really think it’s a balance. It’s just the job. Every show is a learning process, every project brings more to learn – for me and my crew. You set a goal, you set the bar high, you work to get over the bar. If you don’t hit it, you evaluate, modify, and try again. That IS the educational aspect.

6. What is one piece of advice you would share with troupes hoping to make the main stage next year?

Stanfield: Continue to work on clear storytelling. I tell my students that effective storytelling needs three things: You need to be seen; you need to be heard; you need to have courage.

Woods: Remember the ensemble and cherish the community you make. It’s about seeing others. Williams: Do it! Don’t be afraid of trying. Don’t be afraid of the feedback. Get everyone on board early and steer the ship toward that goal with absolute, unwavering passion. And if you don’t make it, read the feedback, take an unemotional view of what needs to improve, and try again.

a group of Thespians from Bradford High School in Between the Lines.

7. What do you hope the audience takes away from your show, and why is this important to you?

Stanfield: I have lived a story that I have chosen, and I understand I have lived a life of privilege. I have tried to create a safe place for young people to find their voices and move forward as more courageous humans. I hope this production inspires young people, and the adults that support them, to continue to commit to telling stories that encourage empathy, soul, and bravery.

Woods: “Live the story you want, if it’s not the story you’re in,” is the most important line in our show. It encourages you to live your life as your full authentic self, which can be scary at times. But once you find the courage to accept who you are, then you can walk in your truth. I hope that when people see this production, it encourages them to choose who they want to be in life and live it to the fullest.

Williams: I want people to see the power that a good story, well told, can have on people’s lives – on the students’ lives, their parents’, the community’s. What we do matters so much, and it’s accessible and available to everyone on stage and behind the scenes.

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