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New Jersey Thespians Hosts First-Ever Virtual Thespian Festival

New Jersey Thespians serves as the state's premier arts honor society, hosting the largest theatre festivals in the state.

New Jersey Thespians Hosts First-Ever Virtual Thespian Festival

New Jersey Thespians is set to host its first-ever virtual Thespian Festival this weekend, January 16 - January 18. The Festival will center around the theme, "I AM. WE ARE. Find Your Light".

Shantel Hill, an STO from North Star Academy's Troupe #7713 explains, "the title of the festival came from the idea of Ubuntu (pronounced oo-boon-too) meaning 'I am because we are'. It really connects to us because even though we are individuals, we are really connected in this combined idea of loving each other in this climate. Especially now, we need to both work on how to love ourselves while respecting others." 54 New Jersey High Schools and 900 students will come together to celebrate theatre, attend workshops with Broadway and local theatre professionals, and view the New Jersey Thespian All-State Show, Music Theatre International's Songs for a New World, a musical written by Jason Robert Brown. The weekend will culminate with the Closing Ceremony on Monday morning.

The festival will feature two keynote speakers as well as State Senator Troy Singleton (D-10) delivering opening remarks and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-3). The opening keynote, Salena Qureshi, a 2014 graduate of Northern Burlington County High School and a New Jersey Thespian alumni, will deliver the opening remarks. Qureshi has been seen on Netflix's "The Society" & CBS' "Madam Secretary". Qureshi has also been seen on "Prodigal Son" (FOX), "Tommy" (CBS), "Bull" (CBS), "The Brave" (NBC), "The Path" (Hulu) & "Girls" (HBO). Qureshi starred in the Off-Broadway show Superhero. The closing ceremony speaker, Michael Lee Brown, just finished performing weekly as the title role in the six-time Tony Award and Grammy winning musical Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. He also covered the other two male lead roles (Connor and Jarred) and became the first ever person to have performed all three roles on broadway. Brown is a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College.

The closing ceremony will feature the announcement of the state's Thespy winners. The students who receive a superior ranking will earn the opportunity to participate in the Virtual International Thespian Festival in June. Students had the opportunity to submit videos and presentations for Acting, Musical, Design, and Technical Events. Four of the best performances will be chosen for our Festival Showcase, to be viewed at the Closing Ceremony. New Jersey Thespians will award six Governors Awards in Arts Education Awards in the following categories: Costume Construction, Costume Design, Short Film, Lighting Design, Make Up Design, Scenic Design and Group Musical Theatre. Students will have the chance to virtually perform for colleges in hopes to be awarded scholarships to their programs. Colleges in attendance this year include AMDA, Drew University, Rider University, Temple University, and Montclair State University. The closing ceremony will feature the nine schools that participated in the state's Trick or Treat So Kids Can Eat Program, the six students who won the DemocracyWorks Essay Contest, the Outstanding Educator Award, and the two newest members of the New Jersey Thespians Hall of Fame.

The festival will feature 50+ live, virtual workshops with some of the best guest artists in the country including Aretta Baumgartner, President of the Board of Directors for the Puppeteers of America; Drenna Moran and Ryan Huban from Howdy Stranger, a professional improv troupe based in New Jersey who produce sketch comedy and host open mic nights; Melissa Hunt, who traveled with the second national tour of Ronald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; and Matt DiCarlo, the Production Stage Manager of Sing Street, BeetleJuice, The Play that Goes Wrong, and the Tony-winning revival of The Color Purple.

New Jersey Thespians serves as the state's premier arts Honor Society, hosting the largest theatre festivals in the state. They annually produce both a high school festival in Robbinsville and a middle school festival in Toms River. New Jersey has one of the fastest growing Junior Thespian chapters, doubling in size for the last two years.

New Jersey Thespians boasts both high school and middle school Student Thespian Officers. New Jersey currently has 21 State Thespian officers, with one of them, Lena Dougherty, senior, Wildwood Catholic Academy, serving as an International Thespian Officer for the Educational Theatre Association. The STO's are led by their Chair Nick Evgeniou, a senior at Toms River High School East and STO Vice Chair Gia Scozzaro, a junior at Bordentown High School. The STO program is led on the adult board by Jason Wylie, a former State Thespian Officer himself and a graduate of Northern Burlington Regional High School.

The New Jersey Thespian Adult State Board features 23 volunteer educators and theatre professionals who work countless hours to prepare for this festival. The adult board is led by Carolyn Little, who is in her seventh year as Chapter Director. Little is the Theatre Teacher at Toms River High School North. The festival is organized by Valerie Gargus, a retired Theatre and English educator from Northern Burlington County Regional High School.

The board also features seven Thespian Alumni on its board. The NJ Thespian adult board is comprised of dedicated volunteers who plan the workshop schedule, reach out to judges, manage our statewide professional development, manage our student leaders, organize our fundraising and community service efforts, advocate at the state and national levels for the arts, manage our technical events, serve on the ArtsEdNJ Governor's Awards Committee, produce an annual All-State Show, and more.

When asked about the board Little boasted "our adults and students have worked extremely hard to produce a festival during these tumultuous times. They have dedicated hours upon hours, many while hybrid/ remote teaching. They have balanced their families with their theatre program in this pandemic world and I am just overwhelmed with gratitude for every bit of passion they have been able to put into our organization."

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