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Send a Troupe grant spells opportunity for Thespians

May 1, 2014

Two Thespian troupes will be joining the party at this year’s Thespian Festival thanks to the generosity of Educational Theatre Association members and donors.

EdTA Executive Director Julie Woffington has announced the award of 2014 Send a Troupe to Festival grants to Thespian Troupe 7573 at the Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles and Troupe 5489, Silverado High School in Las Vegas. The Send a Troupe program, now in its third year, is designed to open Festival opportunities to troupes that would otherwise be prevented by financial barriers from attending. This year’s campaign raised more than $25,000, enough to cover the Festival expenses of twenty-four Thespians, their troupe directors, and chaperones.

Bill Goldyn, Thespian troupe director at VAPA in Los Angeles, surrounded by celebrating students after announcing the school’s selection for a Send a Troupe grant.

Silverado draws students from predominantly working class neighborhoods in the southern part of Las Vegas and nearby Henderson. The School of Visual and Performing Arts, or VAPA, is a magnet arts and academics school located in downtown Los Angeles that is open to students from throughout Los Angeles County; 77 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Both schools serve diverse populations and have very active Thespian troupes.

VAPA’s diversity embraces “a beautiful quilt of individuals,” said Thespian troupe director William Goldyn. “These differences cross all lines: geographic, racial and ethnic, socio-economic, gender and sexual identity, artistic experience, and academic progress… We have a few students who are dropped off in BMWs in the morning, and many who arrive in taxicabs that are driven by their parents, and some who come to school on a skateboard.”

VAPA is a six-year-old experiment that may be unique among arts magnet schools: there is no audition or other admission requirement.

“We’re very proud of that,” said Goldyn. ”We decided to be the school that, if you have a passion in theatre, you may have had no experience because the school that you go to has cut back and you don’t have the access, but if you have a passion, we open our doors to you. We’ve taken those kids, and now that we’ve been around long enough, some of them are at USC, Harvard, Stanford.

“We’ve had so many kids who easily could have gone to gang life, easily could have gone to a much worse condition, just raise themselves up. Kids are going to college who would never even have thought about college before. “

VAPA works with limited resources, but has a lot of friends in the Los Angeles arts community, Goldyn said. When we spoke he was working on the school’s spring production of In the Heights, which will be performed on a set borrowed from the first national tour and with a dozen professional musicians, designers, and other artists sitting in as mentors.

Alan Strait is in his first year at Silverado High School in Las Vegas, and one of his goals for the year has been the revitalization of the school’s Thespian program. He led a busy season of two full-length plays, a musical, a festival of short plays, and a faculty revue fundraiser, and the Thespian troupe participated in regional and state conferences in Nevada for the first time in several years. The big Thespian Festival in Lincoln, however, seemed out of reach financially.

Many of Strait’s students have part-time jobs; for some families, the student’s paycheck is the primary source of income. It’s not unusual for some of his students to attend classes until 1:15, rehearse for three hours, and then work a full shift until after midnight, Strait said.

The cast of the recent production of Into the Woods at Silverado High School in Las Vegas, including several of the Thespians who will be attending the Festival on a Send a Troupe grant.

“The kids are really excited,” Strait said. “The grant is giving these kids opportunities that they would not have had otherwise, whether it be the freshmen who are charging in headfirst, or the seniors who have worked hard for four years.

“The biggest things are going to be the workshop opportunities, the chance to learn from professionals. The chance to network across the country, get to know kids from other schools. The scholarship auditions. We had some kids who did very well at the state conference, and we’re eager to see what they can do at the national level. The main stage shows.

“I think for each kid it’s going to be different. For the seniors, it’s a chance for that moment they never thought they were going to have. Then for the juniors, sophomores and freshmen it’s a chance to bring back the knowledge and excitement about what kids can do.”