By Merritt Beischel
Recently, I returned to the EdTA home office after having been in Lincoln, Nebraska for a week for the Thespian Festival. Despite feeling sleep deprived, I wish I was still there. I’m incredibly appreciative to have been given the opportunity to experience the fiftieth Festival and the fantastic people, events, and energy involved. I was so happy to have the chance to actually interact with the people who are the driving force of EdTA. (FYI, they’re awesome.)
A self-portrait of Merritt Beischel by Merritt Beischel.
Everyone at Festival seemed supportive of everyone else. Students from various schools came up to The Color Purple cast and congratulated them on a fantastic performance. (I second that—the production was amazing.) A Thespian gave an cheering shout-out to Bianca Alomar when there were sound issues during her first rendition of “Nothing,” guest artists provided their e-mail address at the start of workshops if class attendees—teachers and students—had any questions or follow-up inquiries, and my own coworkers checked in with me to see if I needed help and if I was having a good time (and if I needed a cool or hot beverage—the answer to all three was usually yes.)
For anyone who is contemplating attending Festival, I highly recommend it. All involved want you to have a wonderful experience—the troupe directors and chaperones that trek across the country with their students, the EdTA staff that put in long hours to make the week run as smoothly as possible, Thespian alums and pre-professional members who give a week of their lives because they have such positive memories of their time as Thespians, and UNL staffers who are friendly and helpful and just what you would want a host school to be when, if you’re like me, you’re new to the campus and Festival and need cold medicine and breakfast early Sunday morning.
So many of the people I talked to at Festival expressed how glad they were to be there, how much fun it was and how they were definitely coming back next year. I overheard a Thespian on her phone describing the feel of the Festival. She said everyone was wonderful and that she didn’t feel like a weirdo or outsider in the Festival environment. “Everyone here is like me,” she said. In my perfect world, all people would have at least one place where they feel that sense of comfort and belonging, and I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of the one in Lincoln last week.
That said, if you enjoyed Festival and found it beneficial think about how many other people could get something out of the experience, but need help with the logistics. You can help them get to Festival by giving to the Send a Troupe to Festival Fund. Even if you can only give a small amount, you’re still contributing to helping someone realize their wish to be at Festival.
A single dollar can add up. Just ask all those people who bought all of the “Practice Safe Sets” buttons which sold out by Friday!
Speaking of which, would anyone (in addition to me) find an “I heart Thespian Festival” button or sticker appealing? If there’s enough interest, I think we could get them made and sell them. I have connections with the membership department…
I hope to see you at future Festivals!
Greg Bossler, the new senior associate editor on the EdTA publications staff, poses for a picture during a quick stop at the World’s Largest Truckstop. Bossler and Don Corathers, director of publications at EdTA, discovered the truckstop on their long road trip home from the Thespian Festival.
Story and photo by Don Corathers.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. When Greg Bossler, our new senior associate editor, announced that he was planning to travel from our Cincinnati office to the Thespian Festival in Nebraska by car, I quickly signed on to ride shotgun. Road trip! A chance to see the real America. A solidarity of experience with all those Thespians riding across the country in yellow buses. Plus, Greg offered to use the time to give me a college-level introduction to electronic music.
It had been many years since I had undertaken a long car trip. I had forgotten so much.
One of the things I had forgotten was how radically the interstate highway system has remodeled the American travel landscape. Gone are the quirky roadside attractions that used to punctuate a drive. The World’s Largest Ball of String may still be out there, but you can’t see it from the interstate. The result has been to make the nation’s heartland kind of boring.
But that’s how you do it: I-74 to Champaign-Urbana, 55 down to 72 at Springfield, I-72 across the rest of Illinois to the Mississippi River at Hannibal, US 36 across Missouri to St. Joe, and then north on I-29. Cross the Missouri River on Nebraska Rt. 2, and Bob’s your uncle.
I have to say the food was a little bit disappointing, too. We had considered trying to organize the trip so we could take all of our nourishment at Bob Evans Restaurants—Greg likes the hearty biscuit and sausage gravy breakfast, chicken-fried steak for me—but that proved to be impractical. At our first non-Bob food stop, a place called Joe’s Diner near Hannibal, we innocently asked our server, a young woman who would have a good shot at being cast as Becky Thatcher, what on the menu was good.
She looked a little bit perplexed by the question. Clearly it was based on a flawed premise.
"I don’t hardly ever eat the food here," she finally said. "Just the sides sometimes, and that’s only if I’m really hungry." Then she said a couple of other things that did not seem to be consistent with her duty to the Joe’s Diner brand promise.
Our first night on the road we stayed with Greg’s in-laws Al and June, a delightful retired couple who live in the Missouri countryside and whose generous hospitality more than made up for our culinary experience at Joe’s. Here’s how we knew we were out in the country:
1. Dirt road.
2. Zero bars of Verizon.
3. Actual stars in the sky.
4. Lots of talk about big snakes.
Our second day on the road was a few hundred miles shorter than the first, but it didn’t seem like it. Who knew Missouri was so wide? All those soybeans, all those drum machines.
The Thespian Festival itself was a blur. We worked real hard, had a lot of fun, and didn’t sleep much. In memory, though, it now seems like a brief pit stop between two really long car rides.
We took the northern route on the way home, and we did finally encounter one roadside attraction, adapted for the twenty-first century: Iowa 80, a.k.a. The World’s Largest Truckstop, a vast emporium that contains within its girth not just the usual truck stop amenities, but also a dentist’s office, a chiropractor, and a public library. Of course we stopped. By that time, seasoned travelers, we knew better than to ask the staff about the food.
The Educational Theatre Association and hundreds of Thespians from across the country have had a truly magical week here on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The fiftieth Thespian Festival is not one anyone will soon forget. Check back here in the next few days for more photos of the event.
This year at Festival, we’ve gone beyond what we thought was possible for ourselves. We’ve auditioned for college. We’ve made new friends. We’ve tried new things. We’ve sang our hearts out and soared (literally) across the stage. We’ve cheered and cried as the curtain came down. We’ve danced and learned and risked and dreamed. We’ve made a million memories that we will treasure.
The cast of Making Magic, Defying Gravity reminded us that ‘theatre creates family.’ Festival is family. A big, welcoming, enthusiastic family of people who share a great passion—making theatre.
It’s sad to leave this wonderful week behind. It’s hard to say goodbye to people who have become our family. But as we do, we hold Thespian Festival 2013 in our hearts and look ahead to the many amazing adventures to come.
We’ll see you next year and until then, act well your part.