O thespians, thespians! Wherefore art thou Bomber thespians? Prepping for State Festival, of course!

Brianna Ifland, Editor/Reporter

A duet musical number. A set design. A monologue, even. Normally, the stage lights would block out the view of a small crowd, or they would be face-to-face with a small panel of judges. However, this year, all students can look to is the lens of a camera.

Caelei Stanton, Madi Miller, Carlie Corales, and Suzanna Pickers at the 2020 Arkansas State Thespian Festival

Though Shakespeare once said that “all the world’s a stage,” the Arkansas State Thespian Festival is strictly virtual this year, as its international counterpart (ITF) did this past summer. Taking place during February 12-13, theatre kids and mentors alike will be utilizing zoom breakout rooms as opposed to an event center or college campus. 

The theme is A RoARing Affair (a play on “AR” for Arkansas) and the app primarily used by students will be Eventsential.

Schooltheatre.org describes Thespian Festival as “[an] immersion in the theatre arts specially for… middle and high school drama students and their teachers… [It] broadens horizons, enriches learning, and celebrates the creativity of theatre students and teachers alike.”

For you choir and band kids, imagine if all-region auditions and clinic were rolled into one event, and then you sprinkled in workshops, team-building exercises, and far too many references to Glee. Even if you don’t compete, there’s always workshops to do, performances to watch, or college representatives to talk to. 

To replace the in-person merch table, the 2021 STOs have set up a website with stickers, sweaters, etc. Note that, in order to purchase, the “must-do” tab has to be filled out. This lets them know what school to send it to and for which troupe.

As for “ducks,” a long-standing tradition for Festival attendees, a white duck has been sent to each troupe across the state. Thespians will decorate them as they see fit and compete in photo challenges.

Troupe 6560, specifically, will be getting into the Valentine’s Day spirit by decorating mailboxes and preparing valentines for their peers. They plan on meeting in Dunbar, as well as its lobby, and utilizing classrooms for workshops. Snacks will be provided and attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs, blankets, etc.

The Arkansas STO Instagram page (@arkansas_sto) is hosting a series of account takeovers with updates on ThesFest. Bomber Theatre (@troupe6560) is relaying information as well.

Although the 2020 Arkansas state festival happened just before the pandemic hit, ITF took place online, using a platform called Open Waters. For an idea as to what a “normal” year looks like, a vlog by Sam Conine (from Pulaski Academy’s Troupe 7055) is linked here

“Theatre is meant to be experienced live,” says Karen Maupin, the Bomber Theatre troupe director and recipient of last year’s Educator of the Year award, “so the biggest downside is the audience’s experience. It is not the same when theatre is viewed on a screen… The technical challenges are abundant, especially if you are not highly trained in this arena. I suppose the upside is that now we have all these performances we can go back and watch because we’ve uploaded them all to YouTube. Students can learn from watching and critiquing their own performances!” 

The submission process goes as follows:

  1. Record
  2. Edit
  3. Upload to YouTube (with unlisted setting)
  4. Copy YouTube Link
  5. Upload to secure Open Water platform with other necessary attachments (note there will be no retrieval post-upload) 


Babin, Belin, Ifland, Sabella, Treat, Wilson, and Young in Among Friends and Clutter

Around November, Bomber Theatre submitted their one-act for adjudication: Among Friends and Clutter by Lindsay Price. The play revolves around the lives of seven classmates: Melissa Koziol (Audrey Young), Trevor Stamos (Brandon Belin), Joanne Klein (Myia Treat), Ashley Gordon (Isabelle Babin), Icabod MacIntyre (Cayden Sabella), Katherine Green (myself), and Bobby Templeton (Aidan Wilson).

Each scene is a moment in their life, with a small ensemble present (Kylie Andrews, Abby Baird, Olivia Brewer, Carlie Corales, Zoe Croom, Ella Dover, Suzanna Pickers, Caelei Stanton, Dallin Stephens, Joia Traver, and Sierra Trogdon).  The full performance can be found here

On December 23rd, it was announced that the submission scored a superior and showcase, the highest rating possible (second to attempting adjudication for ITF). A couple of weeks prior, Babin and Sabella were announced to have made the all-state cast, and the stage manager– Suzanna Pickers– for crew.

Group Acting about to perform their scene for adjudication

Other ensemble events include group acting and group musical. For the former, I directed a scene from The Staggering Heartbreak of Jasmine Merriwether, written by Don Zolidis. It’s a zany break-up scene starring Mia Green, Brandon Belin, Audrey Young, Caelei Stanton, and Zachary Barr.

For group musical: “Forget About the Boy” from the 2002 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (which, coincidentally, will be Bomber Theatre’s spring production). With Babin as Millie Dillmount and Trogdon as Miss Flannery, it’s an upbeat, tap number (choreographed by troupe alumni Sophia Wilson) with a total of nine girls (the ensemble of “typists” consisting of myself, Corales, Treat, Pickers, Bria Digiandomenico, Reagan Hawks, and Kylie Andrews).  

However, many students can be found focused on individual events, recently renamed as “Thespys.” There are two categories: performance and technical.  The performance category consists of solo/duet acting, solo/duet musical, and the two aforementioned group events. Technical, however, is much more diverse, with costume construction/design, theatre marketing, lighting/set design, and much more. 

A full list of the available events and descriptions can be found here

Sierra Trogdon, Suzanna Pickers, and Brianna Ifland in “Red Winter”

Another technical event is short film. Each troupe is allowed to submit one each year, given that it is under five minutes long and fits the content guidelines.

Directed and co-written by Young, Bomber Theatre submitted “Red Winter,” in which teenage girl Aurora (myself) and her two friends, Lilah (Pickers) and Emily (Trogdon), host a movie night. Aurora’s soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, Weston (Aidan Wilson) shows up and things take a turn for the worst.  

Though judging will be finalized prior to Festival, it’s not certain as to when students will know their ratings. 

Another competitive event, though separate from the Thespys, is Playworks. Students write a 10-15 minute play and three works across the state are selected for a live readthrough that will take place during Festival (undergoing a mentored editing process a few weeks prior). 

My play, “7:17” was chosen around December, and I was paired with playwright John Haman to rewrite and improve the script. It tells the story of Jupiter Harraway, a stubborn teenage girl who has a strained relationship with her late mother. 

The readthrough will take place during a zoom with the following cast: Suzanna Pickers (Jupiter), Myia Treat (Meredith Harraway), Brandon Belin (Jupiter’s dad), Cayden Sabella (Robin Harraway), and Carlie Corales (Aunt Carol). 

“I really liked the subjects it touched on,” says Belin. “It doesn’t feel like some 65-year-old man trying to write what high school feels like… If you told me that was dialogue from a real conversation, I’d believe you.”

To say the least, it’s been hectic, especially with the STO (State Thespian Officer) application process. The finalists were announced (I, among them). I spoke to Amelia Blair, MHHS alumni and 2018-19 STO. 

“Being an STO was a super great experience,” she says. “I got to travel all around the state and help set up Festival and meet tons of thespians. It seems a bit scary at first but really you just get to meet thespians from other troupes and form bonds that last a long time.”

Being an STO was a super great experience… you just get to meet thespians from other troupes and form bonds that last a long time.”

— Amelia Blair

Festival is also a wonderful event to learn about postsecondary opportunities. Seniors Myia Treat and Isabelle Babin have applied to Arkansas EdTA Scholarship

“Two people a year from each troupe go up for it,” says Babin. “We had to do an online app… [and] a theatre resume and I did a video of me singing– which I chose a piece from Little Women from last year… It was an interesting process. Of course it’s my senior year so I’m new to scholarships… I’m pretty optimistic to see where it goes.” 

There may be a showcase of Bomber Theatre’s individual and group events– including the one-act– open to friends and family; however, details are TBA. With auditions for the spring musical around the corner, and Festival itself right behind it, the event may be postponed until afterward.