Oregon Thespians Rocking it Out

By Julie Theobald posted 10-13-2014 17:10


This past weekend I spent 3 days with the Oregon Thespians at their teacher conference, led by Scott Walker and the newly combined board of the Oregon Thespians and the Oregon Theatre Educators Association (OTEA). Oregon is a gem of a place, and this weekend was a gem for me in my EdTA journey.

The teacher conference included high school and middle school teachers from all over the state with a diverse mix of schools, EdTA members and nonmembers, veteran teachers and new teachers, and representatives from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Western Oregon University, the Oregon Alliance for Arts Education, and a Foundation in Seattle. I love the progressive thinking of the Oregon board as they go outside their circle and include a wider community to build their programs on a larger “stage.”    

If you think you are busy, you should take a look at what these guys do. In the past couple months -- all on a volunteer basis on top of their full time jobs and directing their plays -- they have led Camp Thespis for students, Leadership Summit for student leaders, an Improv Festival for high school and middle school students, this teacher conference, and are heading into their IE judges training day which occurs simultaneously in 3 cities and onto their regional competitions. The big state festival occurs in April. Their attendance continues to grow. I am especially encouraged by their growth in junior thespians and the inclusion of middle school students and teachers in these events.

I don’t know how they do it.  Actually, I do know how they do it – with strong leadership, planning, delegating responsibilities among a capable team, collaboration, communication, and positivity. Each board member has a well-defined role. Every week Jeff Hall sends out “news & notes” to keep everyone in the state informed, and monthly he checks the EdTA database for new troupes to make sure his contact list is up to date. Creating a sustainable model is not just about dedication and working long hours, it is about building systems and structure so that success is not dependent on 1 person. These guys get that.

This is the first year of a merged organization with EdTA and OTEA. Jeff Hall, EdTA state chapter director, so eloquently and positively shared the reasons for bringing the 2 organizations together – not just to share a bank account and leverage scale and resources, but to simplify, strengthen, and connect the local efforts to the national efforts of EdTA.

The conference ended with a bang when Jessica Murray and Jo Lane led a choreography workshop where we warmed and explored our bodies and then choreographed a dance piece with a storyline and structure in about an hour. What began as “create four 8-counts within your group” turned into a speakeasy scene with multiple subplots and a beginning, middle, and end. Throughout the lesson, Jessica and Jo consistently referred to the dance standards and theatre standards that we were accomplishing.  As someone who has worked on the National Core Theatre Standards at a high level over the past 3 years, it was gratifying for me to see them in action, hearing the words of the standards used to articulate the rigor of teaching that occurred. Afterwards, we applauded and high fived, feeling the joy and confidence that comes from great teaching and learning.  We created, we  performed, we responded, we connected – to the dance moves, story, time period, music, and speakeasy setting we created, and to each other.