Every year, the Utah Theatre Association holds a three-day convention for high school students around the state. It’s a chance for theater and drama kids to come together and learn skills to use in their schools and theater productions. This winter, fifteen Grand County High School students traveled to Southern Utah University in Cedar City to attend the convention, participate in workshops and watch live theater performances.
The conference is held in a different location each year: Two years ago it was held at the University of Utah, and last year it was all virtual due to COVID-19. This year’s location is famous for its celebrated Utah Shakespeare Festival.
“Being able to attend in an environment where theater is a big part of the community helps students evolve their love for drama,” said Elias Patterson, a Grand County High School junior who attended the conference. “Learning from Broadway actors and accomplished performers provides valuable insight into the inner workings of theater.”
The UTA website, utahtheatrerassociation.org, says the conference gives students and teachers “the opportunity to expand their knowledge of theatre, connect with theatre peers and professionals, and celebrate in the creation of educational theatre.”
Fifty-seven guest artists traveled from all over the country to teach workshops with different focuses including dancing, singing, acting, and producing. Hundreds of workshops were offered over the course of three days, and attendees could choose to participate in as many as eight. In the evenings, there were three plays including “Into the Woods,” performed by SUU; “Guys and Dolls,” performed by Canyon View High School; and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” performed by Cedar High School.
Among the more recognizable guest artists at the conference were Dallyn Vail Bayles and Jack Sippel. Bayles toured with the Broadway company of “Phantom of the Opera,” understudying the Phantom and Raoul. He also played Enjorlas on the Broadway tour of “Les Miserables” starring along with Colm Wilkinson. Sippel was the dance captain for the Netflix movie “The Prom,” a Newsie on Broadway and in the Disney+ pro shot, and performed at the Met Gala in 2021. Sippel led eight workshops teaching dance numbers from both The Newsies Broadway musical and The Prom musical.
“Jack Sippel was able to create a fun learning environment that got everyone moving with joy and passion while learning the dance combo,” said Katie Wakefield, who went to three of his workshops. “Learning from someone who is a Broadway professional made it more of a unique, fun experience.”
All of the students worked hard doing fundraisers at basketball concessions to be able to go, most of them raising the full $200 each. Head Drama Coach Maralee Francis chaperoned the students along with Gery and Gail Wakefield, parents of freshman Katie Wakefield, and Stacey Garrett, the costume designer for the fall musical. Of three seniors on the team (President Kaistin Oliver, Secretary Aly Bertoch, and Arthur Hawks), only Bertoch was able to attend the theater conference.
The convention is just the beginning of the competitive drama season. Throughout the spring, students will prepare a one-act play, as well as one or more individual events, such as scenes, monologues, or pantomimes, to compete with other high school students in the state. The regional drama competition is on Mar. 25-26 at Carbon High School, and the state competition is April 7-9 at Salem Hills High School. The top three plays from the region and the top six individual events will compete at state. Last year, Grand County High School took third at state for their one-act play, “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Murder.” It was originally scheduled to be the one-act for the 2020 competitive season, but got canceled due to the start of the pandemic.
While preparing their competitive pieces, the competitive drama team will also hold their annual Broadway Jr. fundraiser the week of March 7-11. It’s a week-long camp taught by the students of the team for kids in grades k-8. Over the course of the week, the kids will learn a musical number and perform for the community on the last day. T-shirts and snacks will be provided. For more information on the camp, contact Francis at 435-260-9740.