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Saving School Theatre – Easy as 1-2-3

Forsyth High School theatre troupe on stage

ETF launched the Thespian Relief Fund in 2020 to address the pandemic’s effects on school theatre programs. When productions were unexpectedly canceled in spring 2020 — affecting 85% of schools, as EdTA’s 2020 Play Survey found — programs lost the ticket revenue that would fund their future productions. Remote and hybrid instruction during the 2020-21 school year further limited theatre making (though teachers and students showed amazing resilience in creating socially distanced and virtual productions).

To date, ETF has awarded more than $160,000 in Thespian Relief Grants to 186 schools. Here are three ways those grants are keeping school theatre alive and thriving — and how you can help.

1. Saving school theatre by giving a lifeline to at-risk programs

As part of this relief program, International Thespian Society troupes can apply for $500 grants to cover membership dues and students’ induction fees. Schools can also apply for $1,000 grants to cover any production costs. Without this support, some troupes would have dissolved, eliminating students’ opportunities to be recognized and to participate in the honor society.

“Students learn best when they are cared about … but caring doesn’t pay the bills,” said Ashley Doren, director of troupe 1690 at Harrison Central High School in Cadiz, Ohio. “This money helped us induct a whole group of Thespians who otherwise couldn’t because of COVID. These students now have more opportunities, including scholarships.”

“We do not receive any money to pay for shows from the county; it is all based on profit from the shows,” said Robyn Paley, director of troupe 89056 at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, Md. “Without the grant, I am not sure we would be able to maintain our membership.”

“We used the grant money to start our troupe and pay dues for as many students as possible,” said Carmen Caldera-Brzoska, director of troupe 10048 at Elizabethtown High School in Elizabethtown, Ky. “It legitimized our program to administration and allowed seniors to be recognized as Thespians at graduation.”

2. Saving school theatre by recovering from lost revenue

Group of costumed students on stage with a black curtain behind them
Elizabethtown High School in Kentucky started a Thespian troupe thanks to their Thespian Relief Grant.

Most school theatre programs are funded by box office ticket sales, community fundraisers, and advertising. In spring 2020, when schools had to cancel shows without warning, they lost the costs already paid, plus the funds from ticket sales that would support the next year’s shows.

At Logansport High School in Logansport, Ind., their grant enabled troupe 1577 to produce The Addams Family in spring 2021 despite revenue lost from a canceled show and fundraiser in spring 2020. “We are very grateful to have received the grant,” said the school’s Performing Arts Center manager, John Vales. “[The musical] was definitely a bright spot in a difficult year.”

Thespian Relief Fund Harrison Central H.S. OH
A Thespian Relief Grant allowed Harrison Central High School in Ohio to induct students into the International Thespian Society.

“We lost several thousand dollars in revenue to go toward future shows, costumes, etc.,” said Angie Deeter, Musical Theatre Teacher, from troupe 7625 at Forsyth High School in Forsyth, Mo. “We desperately needed the revenue to continue our program.”

3. Saving school theatre by giving hope to students and teachers 

In addition to financial impact, students and teachers have had to cope with the disappointment and lost experiences of canceled shows they worked so hard to prepare. Thespian Relief Grants have provided schools and their communities with much-needed morale boosts.

“We were honest about our financial situation with students, and warned them we would need to generate revenue this year to ‘go back to normal,’” said Anthony Greer, director of troupe 8743 at United Township High School in East Moline, Ill. “Once we told them we had received this grant, as well as this year’s current slate of shows, they were thrilled! Things are looking very bright!”

“The grants we have received may well be saving our program. This program has made a massive difference for kids the past two years,” said Steve Couch, director of troupe 2425 at Madison High School in Madison, Ohio. “Our kids have been an inspiration for an entire community, and these grants ensure that will continue. Thank you immensely.”  

As of this writing in December 2021, 160 schools are still waiting for grants. You can help continue this impact by donating to the Thespian Relief Fund.


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