The past couple of months have been busy and exciting for Cass High School’s theater students.
Last month, 17 actors in grades 9-12 attended the 2019 Georgia Thespian Conference in Columbus for high schoolers who are members of the International Thespian Society, an honor society for high school theater students, and 11 of them received ratings in a competition that earned them a chance to compete at the International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska in June.
At the three-day state conference, which is attended by more than 5,000 high school students and teachers each year, the young actors participated in workshops taught by theater professionals, watched theatrical productions presented by high schools from across the state and competed in individual events for the chance to advance to the International Thespian Festival, according to Cass Theater Director Chris Agan.
“We had 10 students who competed as part of the Group Acting Performance IE, one student who competed in Solo Musical Performance and one student who competed in Solo Acting Performance,” he said. “We also had four students who auditioned for college recruiters and for scholarships.”
The group — made up of Tyler Rawlins, Andrew Pitts, C.J. McKnight, Kayla Campbell, Oshauna Finch, Austin Williams, Savannah Humphreys, Tyler McCurdy, Anna Marie Boughton and Max McCauley — and solo acting performer Grace Weeks earned superior ratings, “which grant them the chance to compete at the International Thespian Festival,” Agan said.
“In addition to superior ratings, the group received perfect scores and were chosen to be featured on stage as part of closing ceremonies by earning Critic’s Choice,” he said. “Only a few acts are chosen for this honor. Closing ceremonies allows the students to perform in front of thousands of their peers.”
Agan — who holds auditions for the IE contests in September and uses the time from then until February to “rehearse and clean the performances to get them competition-ready” — said this is the second consecutive year that Cass has earned the top honor.
“Christian Humphreys was chosen Critic’s Choice last year and performed a Solo Musical IE,” he said. “He was our first student ever to do so, and it was amazing to get to go to International Thespian Festival and watch him earn superior ratings there as well. We are hoping to repeat that success with Grace and the group again this year.”
The director said he’s been “extremely proud of my students and their performances at conference over the past few years.”
“I’ve been taking students to conference for over 10 years and had students competing for almost that long,” he said. “For many directors, having students get superiors is a dream, and to have students chosen to participate in closing ceremonies is the highest achievement. I’ve been blessed to experience it twice, and I’m just elated to be a part of these young performers’ lives and get to see their talent develop and blossom.”
Weeks, 18, who had to do two contrasting monologues — one comedic and one dramatic — in her category, said it’s a “huge honor” to get superior ratings and have the opportunity to compete at ITF.
“Our thespian troupe has worked tirelessly to be the best we can, and it is finally paying off,” the senior said. “Going to Nebraska for five days, full of nothing but theater, is a dream come true for me. I’m excited to see what our future holds and to make memories with some of my best friends.”
Pitts, a junior, and Rawlins, a senior, who were part of the group, also are excited about their opportunity to compete at ITF.
“I am very humbled to be given the chance to compete against some of the most talented thespians in our country,” Pitts, 17, said. “I think that the opportunity to be surrounded by people who share a common passion is an experience that no one could ever forget.”
Rawlins said he’s “grateful and excited to have an opportunity to compete at nationals.”
“I went last year to just attend and to support Christian as he competed so I am excited to get to possibly compete this year,” the 18-year-old said.
Agan said Rawlins used the words “possibly compete” because going to Nebraska is very expensive — around $1,000 per student — and “we are trying to find ways to pay for the trip.”
“It is a possibility that we will not have the funding to go,” he said. “We have fundraisers planned as well as hoping that the ticket sales from [the spring show] ‘Newsies’ can help offset the cost.”
The Cass High Theatre Company will present the Broadway musical March 21-22 at 7 p.m., March 23 at 2 and 7 p.m. and March 24 at 2 p.m.
“I chose ‘Newsies’ at the end of the last school year because, at the time, I needed a big, fun show with a lot of roles for males because I had a number of male students, which is fairly rare,” Agan said. “After seeing a production of ‘Newsies’ at ITF in Nebraska over the summer, I knew this was the show for us. It is family-friendly; the music is amazingly catchy; and the dancing really pushes the students to explore talents that they didn’t know they had.”
The director said he is “so excited for this production and cannot express how proud I am of the cast and crew”: Christian Humphreys as Jack Kelly; Grace Weeks as Katherine Plumber; Tyler Rawlins as Crutchie; Andrew Pitts as Davey; Elena Bern as Les; Joseph Forsyth as Race; Isabel Novarro as Albert; Giselle Cisneros as Specs; Kayla Cempbell as Henry; Laila Denmark as Finch; Katie Downey as Romeo; Tyler McCurdy as Elmer; Katie Clayton as Mush; Savannah Humphreys as Buttons; Crimson Price as Tommy Boy; Yahaira Hernandez as Jo Jo; Katie Clayton, Haley Howell and Alana Milligan as Scabs; Austin Williams as Spot Conlon; Oshauna Finch, Griffin Howard, Eli Etheridge, Austin Williams, Alana Milligan, Haley Howell, Fayona Ponder and Anna Boughton as Newsies; Chase Tant as Joseph Pulitzer; Yahaira Hernandez as Seitz; Katie Clayton as Busen; Isabel Novarro as Hannah; Alana Mulligan as Nunzio; Anna Boughton as Medda Larkin; Savannah Humphreys, Kayla Campbell, Katie Clayton, Oshauna Finch and Isabel Novarro as Bowery Beauties; Giselle Cisneros as Stage Manager; Maxwell McCauley as Wiesel; Griffin Howard as Oscar Delancey; Eli Etheridge as Morris Delancey; Dawson Hargis as Snyder; Savannah Humphreys, Kayla Campbell, Katie Clayton, Oshauna Finch and Anna Boughton as Nuns; Crimson Price as Woman; Maxwell McCauley as Mr. Jacobi/Mayor; C.J. McKnight, Heaven Palfy, Gabe Wolffe, Lane Hall and Naomi Moss as Brooklyn Newsies; and Reece McCamy as Featured Dancer.
“The show is going to be our biggest and best that we’ve ever had,” Agan said. “It is a very physically demanding show, and the kids here have put their all into it, and I think that it shows through in their performances. I urge everyone to come see it. It is one of the most energetic and fun shows that I have ever been a part of, and it will definitely be a super-fun night out at the theater.”
Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults.