Festival of Plays

The resilient Jenison High School thespians have pulled off a totally new experience this year! The “Festival of Plays” is a 26 year old Jenison theatre tradition that hasn’t missed a beat. From student directors choosing their scripts, organizing auditions and casting the parts with fellow students; it remains a largely student led experience, offering each participant unique points of learning about acting, and the direction/production of their own shows. Through ticket sales, it has also been considered a major annual fundraising event.

During early summer, the directors conducted auditions through video chats and prepared for the show to go on! Throughout the next few months, casts would meet virtually, outdoors and in-person while adhering to the appropriate safety recommendations. Now, they are ready to ‘hit the stage’ and tomorrow the public will have the opportunity to view the three shows that have been underway.

Check out the short promo video done by Senior, Brandon Sams.

The YouTube link below will take you to the recorded performances, Friday, September 11 at 7pm.

There will also be an online opportunity to donate to the Thespian program if you’d like as well.

FESTIVAL OF PLAYS 2020 – WILL BE “LIVE” Friday, Sept 11 at 7pm.

It is really exciting to see these passionate students work hard and be able to complete their goal in the midst of this difficult season. Please join me; mark your calendars and make a plan to watch the students perform three great shows this weekend!
1) 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview

Two college interviewers are tasked with finding another applicant by the end of the day, or else they’ll be fired. Their only option is to look at the waitlist, which has 13 unseen students. Directed by Alex Wood and Carmine Sabatini.


2) The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time

You think your breakup was bad? Eve Tonsil, an employee of the nonprofit company “Relationships for a Better Tomorrow” is here to take you on a tour of the nine worst breakups of all time, from the Cro-Magnon era to the Civil War, to a smattering of modern-day breakups. A comedy that proves that no matter how hard someone has stomped on your heart…it could always be worse. Directed by Liberty Kasper and Katelyn Warkentien.


3) 12 Angry Jurors

A drama in which a jury decides whether to put a 19 year old man on death row for the alleged murder of his father. Directed by Connor Vachon and Maddison Cheyne.

Can’t make it this weekend? The link will remain available online so you won’t miss your chance.


Meet Ashlee DeGraaf

Jenison Theatre Director & English Teacher

This is also a great opportunity to introduce the newest addition to the Jenison Theatre program. As Todd Avery prepared to retire at the end of last year, Ms. Ashlee DeGraaf was introduced at the annual (virtual) student Thespian award show last spring. We’re very excited to have Ashlee accept the position of Theatre Director and English teacher at Jenison High School.

Ashlee is a West Michigan native who made teaching stops in California and then Indianapolis before finding her way back home. She has really enjoyed the school year so far and has been connecting with theatre students while sponsoring the Festival of Plays show alongside Julie Oosterink (Jenison Junior High School Theatre Director).

She enjoys spending time with family and looks forward to more of that now that she’s back in the area. She has made the most of her Covid year while hiking, traveling and reading (with a count of 46 books already)!

Ashlee is grateful for the community support of the arts and is really looking forward to building on our distinguished theatre program.

“Well, this has been a wonderful and strange start to the year with distancing and masks, but all the students I have met have been so kind and welcoming.

I have some big shoes to fill but I also very much appreciate inheriting the gift of an amazing program like Jenison. I also look forward to adding some new elements, possibly some improv projects.

I have been super impressed with the students and their drive to overcome some some really frustrating circumstances. They have worked hard to produce the best shows that they can. We hope you enjoy the Festival of Plays!”

Ashlee DeGraff

WELCOME TO JENISON ASHLEE!

GO WILDCATS!

“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!