“Festival of Plays” Highlights Student Talent

Last week, the JHS Thespian Troupe put their best under a much-deserved spotlight when they showcased three student-selected and student-directed plays. “How to Succeed in High School Without Really Trying” by Jonathan Rand, “Theory of Mind” by Ken LaZebnik, and Selections from “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani were chosen and conceptualized last spring, rehearsed this summer, and performed just days into the new school year.

Now in his 16th year of producing the Festival, theatre teacher Todd Avery beams like a proud father at the success of his students. He smiles at the admission of his young actors that directing is a very difficult but very rewarding experience, knowing full well the rigors of putting on  plays and musicals himself.  Yet the struggle is part of the growing, and these students are doing just that: working hard, attaining personal goals, and reshaping dreams. Mr. Avery is aware of about a dozen former student-directors who have left JPS and gone on to direct, write, or teach in other theater programs or professional companies. “I couldn’t be happier with the process or how well it works,” he said.

When interested students approach Mr. Avery expressing interest in participating in Festival (in this case, last May), he underscores the importance of selecting a quality script. If student-directors need help finding something relevant and of interest to them, Mr. Avery points to them to various resources that might prove helpful and thought-provoking. In the end though, it’s their choice to make under the guidance and approval of their teacher.

Mr. Avery also spends a great deal of time considering the students wishing to direct. He takes into account their work ethic, how they deal with pressure, what kind of leadership skills they possess, and their level of attention to detail. This year he expressed that, “…These were three of the best scripts I’ve ever had proposed for Festival. All three sets of directors were top-notch theatre kids and knew what they were doing. I was VERY proud of the results!”

Next week begins another chapter on the Jenison stage: auditions for the fall play “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance, which debuts the week prior to Thanksgiving. Adding to the excitement is that the show has already been accepted to be performed at the Michigan Thespian Festival on December 1 at Saginaw Valley State University! Performing here provides the troupe with the opportunity to be adjudicated with the hopes of being chosen to perform at the “Broadway” of high school theatre, the International Thespian Festival taking place in June on the campus of the University of Nebraska.

In December, auditions for “Singin’ in the Rain” open up in preparation for March’s musical performance. Mr. Avery notes that–yes–there will indeed be rain on the stage during the show, and that it will be a great way to wrap up the years of history and art that have unfolded in the current auditorium. “Singin’ in the Rain” will be the final production by Jenison theatre students on the old stage before the unveiling of the highly anticipated Fine Arts Center slated to open in late 2013.

The Jenison Theatre Program continues to gain notoriety and praise because of the hard work, dedication, and passionate pursuit of excellence displayed by Mr. Avery and his apprentices. “I feel incredibly blessed to work with such wonderful, talented kids in a district that truly values the arts. It is a dream come true!”

To that we can only rise to our feet and ask for years of encores from a man who truly inspires. Bravo!

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