Last May, Newtown Arts Company and joined forces to recreate the annual student theater competition held for 43 years at the Bucks County Playhouse, which closed its doors in December 2010.
NAC board member Kristin Kauffman led the charge in organizing the effort, which was a success.
This year, the five-day festival that concluded Friday was even bigger, giving more students a chance to participate.
The four-day festival in 2011 welcomed more than 400 students from 16 schools to perform 28 plays. This year, the schedule had more than 500 students from 19 schools performing and directing 33 plays.
Kauffman, who is festival director, said this year's event went well, “pretty much perfectly.” Kauffman once participated in the festival as a Pennsbury High School student.
Each school performed up to two 30-minute plays or musicals for adjudication. Each day of the competition judges awarded various honors for acting, directing, choreography and playwriting. Awards such as Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Cameo and Spotlight Moment allowed for broader recognition of student efforts. Not every award was given each day.
Vying for student directing honors on Tuesday was 18-year-old Andrew Walker, a Pennsbury senior. He directed four fellow students in “Overtones.” Walker directed a freshman show at the Bucks County Playhouse festival when he was a sophomore.
“I’m glad they gave us the opportunity when the Playhouse closed,” said Walker, who was concerned he wouldn’t get the chance to direct as a senior. Although he has no plans to pursue a career in theater (he’ll attend Loyola University Maryland in the fall to major in global studies with an eye on law school) this experience was important to him.
He spent the morning in the light booth watching the show and talking tech with Newtown Theatre General Manager Eric Silverman. Of the performance he said, “It went great. I got really lucky with my cast and my assistant director was great.”
Harry S. Truman High School junior Luke Robinson is also interested in the law. The 17-year-old hockey player, who happens to be first in his class at the moment, plans to study pre-law at University of Pennsylvania. Robinson was attending the festival as an actor, performing in both of Truman’s plays on Tuesday.
His composure exhibited both his love of theater and of law. “It’s great to see other schools do their shows,” said Robinson. He said he enjoyed the inside look at how other schools conduct their theater program that the festival provided.
An addition to the schedule this year was a stage combat workshop run by Joe McKernan, a certified actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors. McKernan also adjudicated both last year and this year. McKernan, who didn’t get involved with theater until college, was impressed with the high school talent in the area.
“All the performances were enjoyable to watch,” he said. “To give criticism in hopes of helping future performances is what I like to do.”
Mary Kay Everett, Pennsbury’s director of theater, noted that the adjudicators provided constructive feedback to all the students. Everett brought her students to the festival last year, too. “They were just glad to have some place to compete because the Bucks County Playhouse closed,” she said. “Here, they get experience.”
That experience, constructive criticism and opportunity to learn from others is the intent of the festival. It is especially important considering how budget cuts have affected arts education, said Kauffman. “We just want to give the kids more educational opportunities.”