Hi! My name is Denton Williams, and I am from Richmond, Missouri. (Troupe 7179)
Richmond is a very small town with a strong foundation in the arts located approximately an hour northeast of Kansas City. I grew up with a passion for the theatre, and I was very involved in our town's community and youth theatre companies. I remember being shocked when I got to high school and was told that there was a conference every year in January for students in Missouri that loved theatre as much as I did. So I registered with my troupe as soon as I could, and before I knew it we were in Springfield, MO at the Missouri State University campus seeing shows and participating in workshops. One of the more meaningful moments of the trip was seeing the Missouri All-State Production of Jekyll & Hyde. I remember after watching the show turning to my troupe and saying, "That's going to be me someday!".
After that, I was determined. I waited and waited for auditions for the next All-State show to be posted, and finally, at the beginning of my Junior year, there they were. The chosen show was an obscure Jeanine Tesori musical, Violet. I had no idea what it was, and quite frankly I didn't care, I just knew I wanted to be apart of it. I managed to hunt down a copy of the Off-Broadway recording of the show online, along with a copy of the short story Violet is based on. I immersed myself in the show, trying to be as prepared for my audition as I could be. And finally, it happened. At the 2013 Missouri Thespian Conference, myself and many others participated in the auditions for Violet. We had two minutes to introduce ourselves and impress the directors with a cut of a song. It was decided immediately after the audition whether you had or hadn't received a call-back, and if you had then you received a packet of music and sides for the characters you were called-back for. Then the next day we came back for call-backs. What I remember most from call-backs is learning choreography - I am not a dancer. I figured I'd just smile, have fun, and fake it and see what happened. After the call-back, we had to wait two days before the cast list was announced at the closing ceremony for conference. Hearing my name called was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my life! And so our journey begins!
What most people don't realize about All-State shows is that the actors don't all live in the same place. For many of us, there was a solid 3-4 hour car ride separating us, so that makes for an interesting rehearsal schedule. We met once a month starting in April of 2013, and then in July we had a week-long camp to really put the show together and on its feet. Then rehearsals went into the Winter months, and naturally, we ran into the struggle of bad weather, and ended up cancelling our final rehearsal before performing at the 2014 Missouri Thespian Conference. So really, all-in-all, we had about 9-12 rehearsals over the course of a year-and-a-half, and between state conference in January and performing at ITF at the end of June, we only had a single rehearsal to brush ourselves up on the material and blocking. So our directors really put a lot of faith into the actors to study their materials over breaks and come 110% prepared for rehearsal. Luckily, the cast and crew were very passionate about putting on a show to remember.
We were told at the very beginning of the process by one of our directors, Sarah Hairston, who was a member of the cast of the first Missouri All-State Production, that we could do one of two things: we could go through the motions and create a great show and then move on, or we could create a great show and create great friendships between everyone involved. Thankfully, we all chose the second option. This experience has given me some of the best friends I have ever known, and these are friends that I think I will stay close with for the rest of my life, not just high school. This experience showed us all how to concentrate on the journey and the connections you can make rather than the destination. Yes, I am so beyond grateful that we got to perform our show for audiences at ThesCon and ITF, but I am more grateful that it meant I could spend more time with my cast and crew.
So to all current students who have the opportunity to participate in an All-State show: I highly urge you to take it. It was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything, and it was an experience that has helped shape me into who I am and who I hope to be. Is it stressful? Yes. Is it exciting? Yes. It's one of the most rewarding things I could have done as a high school actor. And to all the audience members that chose to come see Violet at the Kimball at Festival: thank you so much! We all really appreciated the electric audiences we had for our three performances. We all loved every second.
In closing, I want to share a memory: I remember a moment at state conference that a girl came up to me after the show and told me that it had changed her life, and showed her that she wanted to be involved with theatre for the rest of her life. When she told me that, I saw myself after Jekyll & Hyde all those years ago. I hope that she gets to have the same incredible opportunity that I did to touch someone else. After all, that's what theatre's all about, isn't it?