MARBLE FALLS — Before moving to the Marble Falls area and attending Marble Falls High School, Laura Fischer had never heard of the International Thespian Society — let alone a national convention.
This summer, if all goes well, Fischer along with six other Marble Falls theater arts students will get to experience the International Thespian Festival on June 20-25 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
During the Texas Thespians Festival on Dec. 3-5 in Dallas, Fischer qualified for the national competition and festival in costume construction.
“I wouldn’t say I wasn’t expecting to qualify for nationals, but I didn’t really know,” Fischer said.
It was, after all, her first trip to the state festival and in a competition in which she had never entered: costume design.
In fact, when Marble Falls theater arts teacher Jon Clark began looking at the state festival, he decided to tackle an area about which some of his students weren’t exactly excited: technical theater. This includes things such as costume design, marketing and lighting design. Of course, the trip also included performance entries as well.
But his idea and the students’ hard work and innovativeness paid off with Marble Falls landing seven national-qualifying spots and four perfect scores.
“The Texas Thespian Festival is huge,” Clark said. “Compared to all the other thespian festivals, including nationals, it’s the largest. You basically pack 6,200 (high school) thespians into it.”
The festival allows students to explore a myriad of workshops, learn from nationally acclaimed speakers, connect with other student-thespians and develop their skills. But it also features a plethora of competitions designed to challenge students and help them elevate their techniques and art.
Clark wasn’t afraid to challenge his students a bit and put them outside their comfort zone.
While Fischer created a duster (jacket) based on the character Angel from the musical “Rent,” Elly Isaack found herself studying the art and technique of lighting for the lighting design competition. Not exactly something at which she was really adept.
“I had never designed a lighting for a set before,” Isaack said.
“I basically handed her my old college textbook (on lighting) and said, ‘Here, learn this,’” Clark said.
Isaack created a lighting design for “Our Country’s Good,” a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker about a group of Royal Marines and convicts at a prison colony in New Wales South in the 1780s.
But like Fischer and the other Marble Falls students, Isaack rose to Clark’s challenge, landing a national-qualifying invitation.
Being tossed into the fire, so to speak, forced the students to learn their task and execute it — something theater arts does on a routine basis.
“I think theater is really good about building that work ethic,” Fischer said. “You can’t just expect somebody else to do it; you have to be willing to do it.”
Isaack added that it’s also about pushing yourself, even if it means trying something unfamiliar.
“Theater, I think, is about not being afraid to try something new, something that’s not necessarily in your comfort zone,” she said.
Across the board at the Texas Thespian Festival, the Marble Falls theater arts students found themselves facing challenges. But, Clark said, they responded and showed how strong the school’s theater arts program has become over the years.
With four students earning perfect scores — in duet musical and duet performance — the Marble Falls theater program demonstrated that it’s definitely a strong one. Clark explained that to earn a perfect score means each of the judges must give a perfect score for a performance. He pointed out that one could qualify for nationals without a perfect score, but receiving one shows a high level of performance.
The Mustangs who earned perfect scores in duets were Blaire Hambrick and Alyssa Anderson as well as Corey Bogue and Katie Minz.
Those four students also qualified for the national festival and competition along with Holden Fox for his working stage management.
The 2015 Texas Thespian Festival also marked the end of a yearlong commitment by students Lupita Moore and Siler O’Connor as part of the all-state show “Big Fish.”
The two earned spots on the all-state show during last year’s thespian’s festival. Throughout the year, the two worked with some of the best directors and student-thespians across the state. Moore and O’Connor also attended a weeklong camp during the summer to work on the production. The all-state directors liked what O’Connor and Moore brought to the performance so much that they asked them to stay an additional week to help.
Several of the other 19 Marble Falls student-thespians missed national qualification scores by one or two points.
In the Team Makeup Challenge (which wasn’t a national-qualifying event), the Marble Falls team of Phoebe Greening, Christine Ashbaugh, Miguel Estrada and Katie Kirkpatrick finished fourth in state.
“I think how we did at the state festival just shows we’re on the right track here at Marble Falls, and it just backs up something I’ve always thought: We have some of the best students in the world here,” Clark said.
As for getting to nationals, Clark said he and the school are working to make sure the four students can make the trip to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We really want to get them there,” he said. “I really want them to have the opportunity to compete for a national title. And what a great representation of what we’re doing here at Marble Falls High School.”