Thespians celebrate 20th year at UNL

· 3 min read

Thespians celebrate 20th year at UNL

Students perform "Shrek" during a previous Thespian Festival at UNL. The program is celebrating its 20th year on campus.
Courtesy photo
Students perform "Shrek" during a previous Thespian Festival at UNL. The program is celebrating its 20th year on campus.

More than 3,200 high school theater students and teachers are staying at UNL this week for the 2014 Thespian Festival. Celebrating its 20th year in Lincoln, the event opened June 23 and continues to June 28.

Over the course of the week, students representing nearly all 50 states and countries including China, will have the opportunity to see fellow teens perform in productions like “Mary Poppins,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Violet” on four UNL stages. They will also attend more than 100 workshops and master classes and a student leadership program, audition for college admission and Thespian scholarships, and participate in programs designed to help student playwrights develop their skills.

Composer-co-lyricist Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman, best known for their work on Broadway smash hits “Hairspray” and “Catch Me If You Can” will also be in attendance.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Thespians back to the Lied Center for another record-breaking year,” said Bill Stephan, executive director of the Lied Center for Performing Arts. “The Lied Center is proud to be the home of the International Thespian Festival featuring the most talented high school musical theater students in the world. Every year they present world-class musical theater productions and amazing arts education programs. The Lied Center’s mission is to educate, inspire and entertain through the performing arts and the Thespian Festival provides the opportunity to fulfill our mission on an international level.”

The Thespian Festival is held at UNL through collaborative campuswide efforts. The Lied Center for Performing Arts serves as the primary, main stage event venue and headquarters featuring over ten performances of major musical theater works. The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts and UNL Conferences and Events provide secondary performance venues, workshop space, housing and special event venues across campus.

“The theater troupes are staying in eight residence halls on the downtown campus,” said Tony Rathgeber, assistant director for conference service in Housing. “While the Lied Center for Performing Arts is their base of operations, they also are using Kimball Recital Hall, Howell Theater and the Westbrook Music Building and almost every available classroom for auditions, workshops and performances.”

Rathgeber said he made 750 classroom reservations on behalf of the group during the event.

"If there's not a (summer school) class scheduled for a classroom this week, it's most likely being used for a theater workshop," he said.

Stephan said UNL is perfectly suited to host the festival.

"As attendance continues to grow, we’ve found new ways to utilize our many venues,” Stephan said. “The students are able to experience a week on a Big Ten university campus and all of the perks that entails, including a state-of-the-art performing arts center that has hosted the biggest names in entertainment from Yo-Yo Ma to the Joffrey Ballet.”

The festival is staged by the Educational Theatre Association, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. UNL recently signed a contract with the group to continue as the festival site for the next five years. On June 28, UNL is to be presented with the association's "Standing Ovation Award" in recognition of its role in the festival.

"When we developed the relationship between our two organizations, we were looking for a venue for our largest event," said Julie Woffington, the association's executive director said when the award was announced earlier this month. "The relationship between our two organizations has yielded more than that. The UNL team has become our trusted partner."