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Seven Students Awarded First-Ever Diversity Grant for International Thespian Festival

Students who are members of the International Thespian Society (ITS) received awards to attend this year's Virtual International Thespian Festival (ITF) thanks to the newly created Broadway Licensing's Send a Leader Diversity Grant. These scholarships are awarded to student Thespians who are traditionally underrepresented in student leadership and who have experience in diversity-based leadership, service, and social justice activities.

The 2020 recipients include Marissa Barker of Copperas Cove, Texas; Tavis Cunningham of Raeford, North Carolina; Jeyna Lynn Gonzales of Panama City Beach, Florida, Sara Gushue of Simpsonville, South Carolina; Cameron Holder of Greensboro, North Carolina; Caitlin Johnson, of Madison, Mississippi and Caleb Mosley of San Antonio, Texas.

The International Thespian Festival (ITF) produced by the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), celebrates student achievement in the performing arts and technical theatre. The 57th event, which this year, because of COVID-19, is being transformed into the first-ever Virtual International Thespian Festival, will take place June 22-26. The virtual event will feature adjudications, auditions, the inaugural International Thespian Excellence Awards Showcase (aka the ThespysTM), performances, workshops, masterclasses, and more. The grant recipients will attend the student leadership training Through the Leadership Lens.

The International Thespian Society, which was established in 1929, has 2.4 million members and is the Honor Society for middle and high school drama students. A Thespian troupe is a group of students who have earned induction into the Honor Society. ITS is a program of EdTA.

About the Send a Leader Diversity Grant Recipients

Marissa Barker of Copperas Cove High School in Copperas Cove, Texas, home to Thespian Troupe 549, has promoted diversity, awareness, and inclusion through Copperas Cove's student council, gay-straight alliance group, and Thespian troupe so all students can feel safe to be themselves. The senior will pursue theatre education at the University of Texas-Austin in the fall and looks forward to participating in the leadership training at ITF. She says, "Participating in leadership classes will help me be a better teacher in the future and this scholarship will allow my troupe to see that it is possible to achieve everything you want in life as long as you work hard for it."

Tavis Cunningham of Hoke County High School in Raeford, North Carolina, home to Thespian Troupe 4599, has served as drama club leadership officer, president of the national Honor Society, a devoted member of Hoke County theatre program, and more. Cunningham anticipates the leadership training will help him navigate how to inspire students of color to pursue theatre careers. He says, "As a black male in the performing arts I have been seen as unusual, but I still decided to pursue wholeheartedly what I love to do. Though I have not yet reached my full potential as a performing artist when youth of color see me, they strive to perform as I do."

Jeyna Lynn Gonzales of J.R. Arnold High School in Panama City Beach, Florida, home to Thespian Troupe 6371, is a former troupe board officer and Thespian mentor. In the 2019-20 school year, she was elected president of Troupe 6371 where she fundraised and applied for grants and scholarships to lessen student costs to attend her State Thespian Festival. Gonzales says, "I passionately believe that no student should be excluded from opportunities they want to participate in simply because they cannot afford them. I hope that by setting an example of acceptance that these values are carried on for many years past my time."

Sara Gushue of St. Joseph's Catholic School in Simpsonville, South Carolina, home to Thespian Troupe 6388, considers theatre to be one of the few places that unites people. Gushue attributes theatre, and her experience as a zoo volunteer, to helping her understand and interact with a broader demographic of people. She says, "I realize and understand why theatre is such a universal and uniting experience; no matter what background or experiences a person has had, everyone can experience and understand the magic and thrill of watching or being a part of a live performance." Gushue anticipates the leadership training will help her grow as a Chinese American woman in leadership.

Cameron Holder of Grimsley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, home to Thespian Troupe 7993, has committed to advocating for diversity awareness at school where she is a Thespian, superintendent council member, school dance volunteer, and athlete. The junior looks forward to meeting all the student leaders attending Virtual ITF. Holder says, "Leaders are people who help others, their community, and encourage others to do the same. A good leader helps everyone, and one way for me to help other communities is by connecting with other leaders and learning from them at the International Thespian Festival."

Caitlin Johnson of Jackson Academy in Madison, Mississippi, home to Thespian Troupe 8632, dedicated herself to diversity and inclusion in theatre when she auditioned to play the matchmaker Yenta, in her school's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Playing a character of a different race and heritage empowered Johnson to audition for any role. She anticipates the leadership training will show her how to help other students do the same. Johnson says, "Theatre is for everyone no matter your color, creed, or religion. It's a place that allows me to escape the world I live in. I believe it should not be just a place for me but a place for everyone."

Caleb Mosley of Smithson Valley High School in San Antonio, Texas, home to Thespian Troupe 3743, has promoted diversity and inclusion by recruiting other Smithson Valley students of color to participate in theatre and the performing arts. The senior believes theatre builds leaders and looks forward to the leadership training preparing him to help others at the University of Houston this fall. Mosley says, "Theatre has been a large part of my growth since sixth grade and the reason for my happiness over the last six years. Now that I am at the end of that experience and about to start a new one, I want to have an impact on this world and do what I love for the rest of my life."


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