Superior acting is not the only skill of Pennsbury High School’s (PHS) Thespian Troupe.
Competing in a field of thousands of students and hundreds of school districts across the country, PHS’s Thespian Troupe has earned second place in the 2020 National Outstanding Impact Award for Theatre in Our Schools competition.
March was designated Theatre in Our Schools Month (TIOS), and troupes were judged on their campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of theatre education and draw attention to the need for more access to quality programs for all students.
The TIOS campaign was jointly sponsored by the American Alliance for Theatre & Education, the Educational Theatre Association, and the International Thespian Society.
According to Matthew South, in his first year as the Troupe’s director, “The Troupe has always been active in making others aware of the positive effects of theatre education,” mainly due to the leadership of Mary Kay Everett, now retired, who was PHS’s full-time theatre and English teacher for 40 years. “This is the first time that we have been super-active in getting the word for theatre education out there,” says Matt, who is also a vocal teacher at Charles Boehm Middle School.
One strategy was for the Troupe’s student board to attend monthly school board meetings.
During the public comment section of each meeting, students would inform the board of upcoming theatre activities and awards won by their peers.
While the 11-member Troupe board took turns attending meetings, Nic Fallacaro, the Troupe’s president, “was very diligent and committed to being there every month,” says Matt.
The Troupe was pleased to find the superintendent and various school board members attending its productions.
The Troupe substantially increased public and student attendance of its productions by amping up its presence on social media.
Zoe Necowitz, the Troupe’s public relations officer, maintained a social media calendar, detailing when and what to post.
Director South informed State Representatives Perry Warren and John Galloway about the national campaign to declare March Theater In Our Schools Month.
They cosponsored a bill for such a proclamation, signed by over 20 other state senators and representatives.
The Troupe was ready to go to Harrisburg in March, but COVID-19 intervened.
Matt received a scanned draft of the proclamation, but is confident the Troupe “will hit the ground running next year and restart the process to get the proclamation.”
Troupe students wrote messages on the Facebook pages of state legislators to advocate for theatre education.
Additionally, Matt requested a citation for the Troupe, since for the first time in its 52-year history, all eight of the students who attended the International Thespian Festival scored a superior rating.
Before the onset of COVID-19, the Troupe had a successful staging of its fall drama, “The Boys Next Door” and their annual parody of Saturday Night Live, “Thursday Night Live.”
During lockdown, Troupe board officers employed an app called Discord, a virtual chat room for all drama students.
Director South posted a script each week, asking students to choose their dream role, and hosted a full script reading with students.
They also had a weekly watch-party, “Night at the Theatre,” when students viewed a musical, discussed what they liked and disliked about the production, and what they would do differently.
During the week of June 22nd-26th, several Troupe students participated in the first-ever Virtual International Theatre Festival.
Both Nic Fallacaro and Zoe Necowitz won Thespys for their excellence in individual performance.
PHS has 75 thespians, students inducted as official members of the International Thespian Society.
Another 25 students participate in PHS drama activities.
For the upcoming school year, Matt says, “We plan to venture into making theatre safe and accessible. We hope to still have an aspect of live performance, but we are looking into the webinar style of performance as well to learn new skills and to keep theatre safe and accessible for all.”