DCSD middle school students qualify for internationals
DENNISON, Texas – A group of middle school students from four Douglas County School District (DCSD) schools helped to represent Colorado during the National Junior Thespian Conference in Texas last weekend.
During the three-day event, they had the opportunity to learn about the art of acting, dance and much, much more from professionals in theatre.
“One class taught you how to cry on demand,” said Mesa Middle School eighth-grader Miles Bollman. “There was also a class called ‘the right to be obnoxious.’ It was about finding quirky things that other people do or things you find annoying that maybe your character would do. One of the things that they taught us in a dance class was to jump into our character. You know, jump and land as your character.”
Bollman says he is already putting some of the techniques to work as he prepares for his role as a Wickerhsam brother in Mesa’s production of Seussical.
“I think I’ll be more believable,” Bollman said. “It is important to be your character, rather than a student pretending to be a character.”
The students said one of the highlights was getting to meet professionals that had made it to the highest levels of theatre.
“I have officially worked with a Broadway actor and choreographer,” Bollman said. “It is pretty special. Not a lot of people get to do that.”
“At the end of the class we had 15 minutes to ask [the choreographer] questions to see what it was like for him to choreograph a show. It was pretty interesting to see how busy one day was for him,” said Mountain Ridge Middle School eighth-grader Davis Helmerich.
Helmerich said he was also amazed by the talented student-actors they met and watched perform.
“They were really cool to meet and their performances were mind blowing,” Helmerich said.
Then students had the chance to put what they learned on display, during the competition portion of the conference.
At every level of the competition, students strive for a Superior rating, which allows them to proceed to the next level. During the national conference, several students from DCSD received superior ratings and are now qualified to participate in the International Thespian Conference to be held in June in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“They’re not really competing against other students, but they are competing against themselves for a top rating,” explained Mountain Ridge Theatre Director Laurilea McDaniel, who organized DCSD’s contingent. “One of my favorite moments [this weekend] was watching two of my seventh graders perform. For one of them, the first time she stepped on the stage in my room, she was in tears and ran out. She couldn’t even finish the scene. Watching her transition into a confident performer was amazing.”
She says that experiences like the national conference naturally tie to the academic work the students are doing here in Douglas County.
“Everything we do is the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication),” McDaniel said. “These kids go and bring their learning back. They are bringing back creativity and new ways to communicate with each other. It is awesome to watch.”
Additionally, it really builds their confidence so they can take the next step in theatre.
“They go to high school completely on fire, very excited for high school theatre,” McDaniel said.
Several of the students who participated in the national conference, including Helmerich are already looking forward to high school and perhaps careers in theatre.
“I don’t know where life will take me, but it would be pretty awesome to do that,” Helmerich said. “I like being on stage and the shows that we do at Mountain Ridge are some of my favorite things to do after school.”
Middle school is a great time to try out different activities. Helmerich encourages other middle schoolers to try theatre.
“You may not thing you like theatre and you might think it is silly, but once you try it you might have an entirely different opinion and that's exactly what it was like for me,” Helmerich said. “When I was a sixth-grader and before I met Ms. McDaniel, all I cared about was sports and then I took one of Ms. McDaniel's theatre classes and I loved it from the first moment. I thought it was awesome and I am now doing as much as I can.”
McDaniel hopes to inspire even more students by getting every DCSD school involved in the national conference in the future.
“It is a unique experience and before I went the first time I didn’t truly understand what it was all about. I knew it was a good experience for kids, but it is life changing for some,” McDaniel said.
“Many of the adults I talked to said that we were very fortunate and lucky to be [at the conference] because they loved theatre at a young age as well, but they didn’t have as many opportunities as we do. They told us to take advantage of it and to learn as much as we can,” Helmerich said. “It really was a great experience.”
Only five schools from Colorado, including the four from DCSD, participated in the 2016 Junior Thespian National Conference. Below is a list of the Douglas County schools and their theatre directors:
Cimarron Middle School Theatre
Director Carolyn Warner
Mesa Middle School - Black and Gold Theatre
Director Andy Jaramillo
Mountain Ridge Middle School - Headstrong Theatre
Director Laurilea McDaniel
Sagewood Middle School Theatre
Director Kayla Reynolds