Strangers like me

    Thousands of theatre students from around Missouri gathered in Kansas City, MO, for a three-day conference filled with dancing, learning, and making friends.

    Picture yourself in a room, occupied only by you and theatre kids. Depending on your background and experience with these creatures, that can either sound like a nightmare, or a dream come true. Now, imagine the room to be a theatre in the Convention Center of Kansas City, and the number of theatre kids multiplied by thousands. That is the Missouri Thespian Conference.

    I first attended Thescon this year, as a junior. The three-day event is filled to the brim with workshops, one-acts, improvisation competitions, auditions and interviews, and mainstage performances, and when I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by all the options I had. Going into the conference, I was very in the dark on what it was all about. I had really no plan about what I would do this weekend, other than go with the flow.

    Thescon opened with keynote speaker Jason Daunter, who stage managed Wicked on Broadway and the 1st national tour, as well as various other national tours. He spoke to us about the importance of opportunities and obstacles; how we needed to take the opportunities we received, and that when obstacles were created for (or sometimes by) us, we can still get through.

    While this was inspirational on a big level, it could be interpreted for something as short-term as a three-day conference in Missouri: there were so many opportunities to attend classes on topics you are interested in, and to meet kids with the same passion as you–but obstacles existed, such as when the one class you wanted to go to was cancelled because Mama Yeye, the cutest 57 year old African dancer, didn’t show up, or when none of your friends have any desire to go to the Shakespeare workshop with you.

    I could easily see myself not having gotten as much as I did out of the conference, due to apprehension for going to a workshop alone. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case, though, and a lot of that was due to speaking with a friend from FHN, whom I attended the conference with, about his past experiences at Thescon. He told me about how there were so many things I’ll want to go to, but there’s no way I can go to them all. How, since I’m a junior, I only get two Thescons in my life. How, even if none of my friends want to go to the Shakespeare lecture, go anyway if I want to, because I will get a lot out of it and meet people there anyway.

    Luckily, many times at least one friend from FHC or FHN (we travelled together as one group) wanted to go to the same event I did. I went to a swing dance class, a lecture on stage management with Jason Daunter, a lesson on stand-up comedy (just so you know, jokes aren’t nearly as funny at 9am), West African dancing with a drum called djembe, circus arts, as well as about four choreography classes. Whether I went by myself or in a group of 10, I enjoyed myself in every one, and learned things I might not have the opportunity to anywhere but Thescon. And the best part was, all of this was going on while my classmates were learning math and science at school.

    A big aspect of Thespian Conference is getting to watch mainstage performances. This year, the musicals were Lees Summit’s The Sound of Music, and Lees Summit North’s Tarzan. Both were enjoyable. Tarzan was amazing–possibly the best high school production I’ve ever seen. From the moment the curtain rose and the set was revealed, I think every single kid sat there in awe, with their mouths agape. Anyone who could have seen this show would be impressed, but for those who know exactly what it takes to put on a musical, it was inspiring. The lighting design, the backdrop, the choreography, all were almost perfect–not to mention the extremely talented leads. Every actor and actress performed their role beautifully, and it was difficult to pick out the “weakest link”.

    Seeing this show made me realize just what a bunch of high schoolers can accomplish. And it makes me believe that my school and my community theaters can be just as amazing, with the right direction, effort, and desire. And the workshops and classes taught me the same thing, along with the fact that trying something new can be really, really fun and rewarding. When else are you going to get the chance to dance djembe and spin plates? And lastly, it reminded me just how important is to meet new people, even if it’s just a smile at a stranger, because it makes both of you feel that much better. And to strengthen relationships with those you have met, or are very close to, because every moment you spend with friends can be worthwhile, if you let it. Especially those who will listen to show tunes with you–they are keepers.