Postcards from Camp Thespis: Students travel to UNI for Thespian Festival

December 4, 2017

This fall, eleven students traveled to UNI to watch and perform at the Iowa Thespian Festival. I, Tyler Salow, happened to be one of these students.

Friday, November 10th, 2017



After stuffing the vans with set pieces and benches and locating a missing bench for the van, our group of bumbling and excited high schoolers departed for the University of Northern Iowa and the Iowa Thespian Festival.


Upon arriving at the festival, we watched a fully fledged play, “Peter and The Starcatcher,” a supposed prequel to Peter Pan, the childhood classic. In front row seats, our chaperones, Tina Ostrander and Dawn Walters, and the rest of the students were anxious to see more shows.


Oh my gosh. The show was hilarious. While I didn’t enjoy the main character, Peter, the supporting role of Captain Blackstache (who, spoilers, turns into Captain Hook) was hilarious. The supporting roles of the man-woman nanny called Mrs. Bumbrake and the hilarious and hungry Teddy were marvelous. Emily La Rosa said, “It’s like Finding Neverland, but not scary.”  


After a lunch, Ben Litterer, Grace Reiss, and Olivia Neuzil prepared themselves for the first group performance of the day. They presented a group improv, where they only had five minutes to prepare. Upon stepping into the room, I felt the tension as they were given their topic (landing a plane in an unexpected place). The tension was soon resolved as Litterer, the professional butler flying a plane for his celebrity Reiss, landed accidentally in what he thought was Paris. It was actually a jungle inhabited by a cannibalistic tribal woman, otherwise known as Neuzil. Upon inspecting and attempting to eat the “Giant Metal Sandwich,” Neuzil took the plane to the sky, ending the scene. The crowd filled the theater with laughter.


We unloaded our bundle of trees and a bench from the van into the Strayer-Wood Theater, and let me say, “Oh my, was this place different from Hanson.” I couldn’t believe the  spinning stage, the parallel seating, and the wireless communications! I was in heaven!


We performed “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend.” I say we, but really it was Grace Reiss, Maxwell Weber, and Holden Smith. All I touched was the sound board, meaning I pressed play on the music and stopped the music, nothing special. The real performance occurred on the stage. Everything was perfect. Everything was set. Everything was said. Everything was heard. No forgotten lines. It was amazing; one of the best shows performed. As I unplugged the AUX cord from the board, I heard sobs from the crowd. Fully fledged sobs. When I arrived backstage, I heard news from alumnus Stephanie Nicholson that even her professors were tearing up. Believe me, you need a pretty powerful performance to get any kind of reaction from them.


Next up on our agenda was Mariah Seeley’s solo musical theater. She was to perform “How Did We Come To This?” and with the native sound system not working, she was reduced to using her navy blue JBL Pulse Speaker. As the song started, the room lit up with sound. Not only was it coming from the speaker, but from the girl herself. It was amazing.


Just after the great show of vocal music, we were slowly ushered back into the Strayer-Wood Theater. However, we were in for a different show. This was the Open Mic, meaning anyone and everyone was going to go up onto that stage and do anything to their heart’s content. This included a male rendition of the classic song from the Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On,” slam poetry, and stand up comedians.

After a quick supper, we attended another show; this time it was “A Piece of My Heart,” a tale of women in the military.

At the intermission of the show, we learned who qualified for internationals! We scrambled out the doors to see the board and lo and behold, Ms. Mariah Seeley was placed on it. She qualified for the International Thespian Festival!


We were back on the road home, and the van, for once, was silent. Whether is was the deepness and the depth of the show we just witnessed or just the overall tiredness of every individual in the van, I may never know. Emily La Rosa told me to turn off my screen. She said it was too bright for her to see.


As we rolled into Manchester, our eyes began to slowly open. Everyone in our van was tired and wanted to go home. I stuck around, grabbed a “Camp Thespis” complimentary T-shirt in the wrong size and slowly drove home in the darkness.

Saturday, November 11th, 2017



To start the day, we left Kwik Star yet again. Armed with Mountain Dews and Tornado sticks, our van headed back towards the Gallagher, excited for yet another day of performances and productions.


We arrived five minutes right before the opening show of the day, “Next to Normal.” The performance was about a mother going through the trials of being bipolar and slowly accepting the early death of her son, which seemed to be haunting her.


After yet another lunch of tacos, waffles, and ice cream, we were moved into the Strayer-Wood theater once again, but for individual events this time. The best of the bests performed for us live. We watched an improv about selling lemonade, a villainous monologue, and an insane musical theater. Next up, we separated into workshops of our choosing.


One of my sessions taught about how to build characters in a script. Our instructor asked us questions, and we had to write down how our character would answer them. Other than that, the workshops I attended were just repeated information I had learned, whether through the internet or through personal experiences.


It’s over. The last show on our list to see was “Almost, Maine,” a conglomeration of love stories and love losses. Tina suggested we could do this show for our spring play, but we quickly decided against that as there was way too much kissing.

Prior to the show, the results were posted for the Studio Performances, and second place went to West Delaware’s “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend!” The group was ecstatic. While this didn’t secure us a spot in the Internationals, we still could apply, which is something the group will talk about.

After the festival, we clambered back into the van and drove to Pancheros and Coldstone for supper. I’m pretty sure Emily La Rosa ran and got fudge from HyVee.

I’ll be attending next year. This experience has changed my life. It’s opened the doors to my future. I’ve made friends with I don’t know how many people, just from these two days. It even convinced me to change my lanyard to an Iowa Thespian one! Thank you, ThesFest, and I’ll see you next year.

-Tyler Salow


Mariah Seeley was not only invited to perform at the International Thespian Festival but also was a Scholarship finalist and called back by six colleges for their performing programs.

“Hello Darkness, My Old Friend,” received second in the Studio One Act performances.

Ben Litterer, Grace Reiss and Olivia Neuzil received an overall Excellent rating with their Improv performance.

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