The Shows Must Go On

Author: Christopher Durso       

“Never work with animals or children,” W.C. Fields is said to have said, but for the International Thespian Festival, kid performers is sort of the whole point. Every summer, the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) brings together thousands of them — mostly middle- and high-school students — at the festival, which was launched at Indiana University in 1941 and has been held at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln since 1995.

“It’s performance, education, and networking,” said Doug Berlon, EdTA’s deputy executive director for education and content. “There’s no one goal, short of ‘Let’s get all of these great people together, and let them learn and challenge each other and have a place where they can feel comfortable and at home.’”


Networking at the festival comes in the form of colleges looking to introduce students to their theater programs. This year, 56 institutions participated.

“They do interviews, they give away scholarships, they do auditions,” Berlon said. EdTA gets in on the action, too, distributing more than $30,000 through the festival’s Thespian Scholarship Auditions program.


The festival’s Playworks and Musical works programs are designed to nurture original student-written plays and musicals “from the page to the stage.” This year they were joined by Filmworks, which culminated in a half-dozen groups of students shooting five-minute videos. “There’s so much budding interest in film,” Berlon said, “not just from a filming standpoint, but acting for film is different than acting for stage.”


The biggest challenge of producing the festival? About what you’d think.

“We care deeply about kids, right?” Berlon said.“We want them to have an amazing experience, and trying to coordinate 4,000 kids’ schedules with the 4,000 things we’re offering them is tricky. How do you fit all of that into a week’s schedule, and allow them to still have a great time?”


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