Thespian Festival

The Thespian Festival is an annual, weeklong event for high school theatre students, celebrating student achievement in theatre arts. The event features workshops presented by theatre professionals, individual and group performances, programs for technical theatre students, and opportunities to audition for college admission and scholarships. The Thespian Festival is currently held on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is presented by the International Thespian Society (ITS), the student honorary of the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA).
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We are so excited about Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman joining us at Festival this year that we decided to take a stroll back to 2008…

The duo joined us for an International Thespian Production of their hit musical, Hairspray. Shaiman and Whittman not only got to see their show performed on the Festival main stage, but they also helped with rehearsals!

Have you been in Hairspray? Tell us about it!

Excited to meet these great theatre artists at Festival? Tell us about that too!!!!!

Hey Thespians, do you think you could help your theatre educator learn about the Educational Theatre Association’s National Conference? Theatre people are lifelong learners and Conference is a great opportunity to learn a lot about theatre education in a really short period of time.

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Marc Shaiman                                               Scott Wittman

Add Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman to your list of reasons to attend Thespian Festival 2014.

The creative partners who wrote the music and lyrics for the much-decorated musical Hairspray (and for Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, Catch Me If You Can, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) will be at the center of a special performance titles An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman on the Thespian Festival main stage.

The composer and co-lyricists will share stories about their lives in the theatre. A Thespian cast and crew for the show will be announced next week. They will work and perform alongside Shaiman and Wittman  and members of the cast of the first national company of Wicked.

This is a second visit to the Festival for Shaiman and Wittman, who were in the audience for the 2008 International Thespian Cast production of Hairspray. The two won a Tony and a Grammy for Hairspray; a Best Musical Tony nomination for Catch Me If You Can; and nominations for two Emmys, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe for their work on the television musical drama Smash. Shaiman has also been nominated for five Academy Awards for his film scores and original songs.

“We are thrilled we got a callback to this year’s Thespian Festival,” Wittman said. “Seeing Hairspray at the Festival was one of the highlights in our professional lives, and you can ‘run and tell that.’”

Beautiful photo taken by Cori O’Neal at Thespian Festival 2013.

Need a hug? Take a couple.

Can’t wait to see you in Lincoln.

Happy TBT everyone! Last year marked twenty years of the Thespian Playworks program. This sweet little slideshow showcases the great writers who have been part of Playworks and the amazing work they developed and staged in the all-too-short week of Festival. Enjoy!


Not an actor? No excuse! Playworks needs you too. Be part of the design and production Playworks Dream Team! Contact Julie York Coppens at

Have you heard about the Playworks line up? You want to be part of this.

Audition online by May 1 for the the Thespian Festival Musicalworks program through Get Acceptd.

This is a great opportunity. If cast, you’ll get to workshop a new piece of theatre, work with professionals in the field, sing your heart in front of the entire Festival delegation, and make dozens new friends and wonderful memories.

Annnnd… did you know you can connect with colleges through Get Acceptd? You can. Pretty cool.

Are you still reading this? Get to work.

Wanna be onstage at Festival? There are a record number of parts available for Playworks. Don’t miss this special opportunity to bring a new piece of theatre to life.

Audition for Playworks on Tuesday of Festival week. Stay tuned for details!

Program coordinator Maggie Perrino on Thespian Musicalworks!

Why was this program started? 

Several years ago while watching the Individual Events Showcase, it occurred to me that we have developmental programs for playwrights and actors, but not a lot of developmental work for musical theatre kids. It seemed that a developmental program for new musical writers and musical theatre performers was needed, so discussions began for shaping a program to workshop a new musical at Festival. Musicalworks was born out of these conversations. 

Why should kids get involved? 

Students interested in writing new musicals should attend Jim Hoare’s workshops at Festival and submit their new pieces in the winter for evaluation. Musical theatre performers should audition via Acceptd  to be a part of the cast of the new musical and perform the opening number at the Individual Events Showcase on Saturday at Festival. 

How do you think the program affects the students? 

I think the students learn a lot about collaboration, what makes a musical number entertaining, and how musical structures affect the way an audience feels about a piece. It was amazing last year to see how different the opening number was at the beginning of the week to the end result. Every person who worked on Musicalworks became a small part of that change. Together, we made something new and truly amazing. 

What do you, personally, experience while working on this program

At the beginning of the week, you can really see on everyone’s faces that workshopping this new show will be a challenge, but those faces turn to pure joy by the end of the week when they see how far they’ve come. I love the transformation that theatre brings. When you finally perform it on stage, all the hard work and fear falls away. You can revel in your accomplishments and just enjoy the moment. 

What’s been your favorite memory or moment?

Hands down: Caitlin Sloane, one of last year’s winners, on the day of the performance. She was so overwhelmed seeing her musical take the stage at festival and thanked all of us profusely for making her dreams come true. That’s why I am in theatre education — for the moment when a student sees her dreams alive onstage. That is truly magical to me! 

By Julie York Coppens

What does it mean to be human? Famous? Free? Irredeemable?    

The judges found some surprising answers to these and other immortal questions among this year’s Thespian Playworks and Musicalworks submissions—seventy-three student-written scripts and eight prospective musicals from across the country and as far away as Dubai. After  much deliberation, the contest results are in.

The Playworks panel has chosen four winning finalists in the Educational Theatre Association’s annual competition and script-development program, sponsored by play publisher Samuel French, Inc., and run by Dramatics. A separate panel selected a single work for the  Musicalworks program, which is now in its second year, sponsored by Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

 These outstanding entries are now slated for staging at the 2014 Thespian Festival, June 23-28 in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the student authors will work with professional playwrights, directors, and corps of actors (and in the case of the musical theatre program, a music director) to put their scripts on their feet:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Planned Parenthood, an unflinching two-character study by Alexa Derman, Troupe 7582, Westfield (New Jersey) High School. What’s left to say, Derman’s play asks, when a young couple has done the unspeakable?

The Trial of Adbot Five-Seven-Nine, a fresh, near-futuristic courtroom drama—by Francis Bass, Troupe 1429, Leon High School, Tallahassee, Florida—that pushes some classic sci-fi buttons.

 This Play Is About Pirates: An Autobiography, by Caleigh Derreberry, Troupe 3678, Brookwood High School, Lilburn, Georgia, in which a sea-weary buccaneer confronts his clueless younger self.

And from the sea-battered cliffs of Irish legend comes Skin, a reimagined selkie fable by Derick Edgren, Troupe 386, Auburn High School, Rockford, Illinois.

This year’s Musicalworks winner is Balloon Boy: The Musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Billy Recce, Troupe 7097, Hauppauge (New York) High School. Inspired by true events in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2009, Recce’s satirical musical-in-the-making centers on the mad scientist father of three sons and their quest for fame via reality TV. Like the Playworks finalists, Reece will work with professional mentors and a Thespian cast to develop Balloon Boy and stage an excerpt at the Festival.

 “The contest has grown to attract serious writing interest,” commented Playworks judge and director Joe Norton, from New York City, one of several professionals joining the Dramatics/EdTA staff in evaluating this year’s submissions. “I’m just so impressed… These pieces are all really good, for different reasons.” 

For more on Thespian Playworks and Musicalworks, including how students may participate this year or in future programs, visit Stage managers, designers and other backstage types interested in positions on the Playworks Dream Team should contact Julie York Coppens at

We are so excited to welcome the following shows to the 2014 Thespian Festival main stage!

Smokey Joe’s Café presented by Troupe 3860, Jeffersonville High School, Jeffersonville, Indiana

Three Sisters presented by Troupe 5869, Denver School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado

Fiddler on the Roof presented by Troupe 1539, Edina High School, Edina, Minnesota

Catch Me If You Can presented by Troupe 4982, Bradford High School, Kenosha, Wisconsin

Of Mice and Men presented by Troupe 5273, Las Vegas Academy, Las Vegas, Nevada

Disney’s Mary Poppins presented by Troupe 5134, Green Valley High School, Henderson, Nevada

Time Stands Still presented by Troupe 69, Dubuque Sr. High School, Dubuque, Iowa

Violet presented by the Missouri All-State Cast and Crew

In the Heights presented by the Georgia All-State Cast and Crew