by June Portnoy
Neshaminy High School was among 19 high schools and middle schools from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to participate in the second annual Newtown Student Theatre Festival, held at the Newtown Theatre from April 30th through May 4th during which time over 500 students performed 33 productions.
The purpose of this weeklong festival, produced by Newtown Arts Company and Newtown Theatre, was to give students an opportunity to perform 30-minute stage pieces and receive feedback from theater professionals. Each day culminated in an awards presentation, followed by the performance of “Into the Woods,” the Tony-Award winning musical presented by Newtown Arts Company.
Students from Neshaminy High School’s Roadies Theater Group performed “Here Comes the Bridge…And There Goes the Groom,” in which Julia McGovern received an award for Spotlight Performance. Their second theatrical number was “Tracks,” in which Kaitlyn Jones, Hayley Buxton and Kyle Duke won for Outstanding Performance. This piece also won for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Ensemble.
Festival Director Kristin Kauffman proposed the idea for the Newtown Student Theatre Festival because she remembered how much she enjoyed participating in the Bucks County Playhouse’s Annual Drama Festival when she was a student at Pennsbury High School.
That festival took place for 43 years up until the Playhouse closed in 2010.
“Performing at the Theatre Festival was such a rewarding experience for me,” said Kristin, “and I wanted students to continue to have this opportunity.”
“Although our theatre festival has no affiliation with the former festival held at the Bucks County Playhouse, it offers a similar format,” said Festival Administrator Marcia Wittmann. “It also fills a void in this community that offers very few theater festivals.”
“Students participating in this festival have the chance to meet others students just like them who share their passion for theater,” said Nancy Pickering, co-producer of the Newtown Theatre Festival.
“Students interested in theater love to see what other schools are doing and enjoy performing in front of their peers,” said Marcia.
“It was really fun performing in front of a different audience,” said Neshaminy High School senior, Hayley Buxton.
“Another benefit of this festival is that it gives students the challenge of adjusting quickly to an unfamiliar stage, which is all part of the theater experience,” said Kristin. “They must learn to go with the flow and be as adaptive as professional theater performers are.”
Students and teachers alike agreed that the most important aspect of this festival was receiving feedback from people in the field of theater.
Said Gina Chiolan, Neshaminy High School Roadie Director, “I brought my students here to receive feedback other than mine. I wanted them to get other people’s critiques and viewpoints about their acting.”
Every day, three different adjudicators offered their thoughts about each performance.
Students received an acting, staging and technical/overall performance evaluation.
Some helpful feedback offered to students was to go back and delve deeper into their characters. They were told to think more about their character’s objectives in each scene, and if time allowed, to try acting out their role in different ways.
Dori McCrane, one of the adjudicators with a background in musical theater, said, “If these kids want to continue in this field, they need to know their weaknesses and their strong points.”
Dori added that, “It’s also very important for young actors to get encouragement and support of other actors, which is what they are receiving here today from these professionals and from their peers.”
“It’s great for these students to hear other students laughing at their comedic efforts and applauding their performances,” said Nancy.
The question and answer portion of the day enabled students to hear about each adjudicator’s background and get some practical advice about going into theater. Some of the suggestions students heard was to do anything and everything they could in theater without limiting themselves to one aspect such as drama, comedy or musicals. They were told to “try it all” and to do any job they could to get into the field, even if it meant working backstage just to receive additional exposure to the theater industry.
“We want students to hear first-hand from theater professionals about what life is like in the field of theater after high school,” said Kristin.
The number of participants in the Newtown Student Theatre Festival increased from over 400 last year, to over 500 this year. This year the festival was also opened up to middle schools for the first time because of the interest the festival received last year from these schools.
This festival is now open to any middle or high school student in PA, NJ or Delaware in an established theater or drama program at school or in a theater group.
“We are already talking about next year’s festival and hope to make this an annual event for years to come,” said Marcia.
For more information about the festival, visit www.newtowntheatrefestival.com.
PHOTO CAP: Some members of Neshaminy High School’s Roadies Theater Group, pictured from left, Kaitlyn Jones, Hayley Buxton, Emily Lieb, and Julia McGovern, performed “Here Comes the Bridge…There Goes the Groom” at the recent Newtown Student Theatre Festival.