WOHS theater students reflect on thespian festival

West Orange High School’s theater students took their production of “Bright Star” to the International Thespian Festival in June.

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  • | 3:00 p.m. September 19, 2018
West Orange High theater students Patrick DuChene, left, Isabel Sugrue, Alex Mohr, Jessie Roddy and Patrick Franks are just some of the thespians who made up the cast of “Bright Star.”
West Orange High theater students Patrick DuChene, left, Isabel Sugrue, Alex Mohr, Jessie Roddy and Patrick Franks are just some of the thespians who made up the cast of “Bright Star.”
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As cast members of West Orange High School’s production of “Bright Star” took their final bows at the International Thespian Festival, they were met with the roaring applause of more than 2,000 fellow thespians giving them a standing ovation. 

“It was a very bittersweet moment for me,” said senior Alex Mohr, who played the role of Jimmy Ray. “I wanted to laugh just of pure happiness, and I wanted to cry, because it was over. We’d been with it for so long. It had just become almost a way of life at that point.”

Some of West Orange High’s theater students traveled to the University of Nebraska to perform “Bright Star” — a bluegrass musical written by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin — twice at the main stage of the International Thespian Festival 2018. The festival ran from June 25 to 30. 

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience,” said junior Jessie Roddy, who played the role of Lucy. “It was super emotional (for me), because we had been with this particular show all year — from fall (2017) to summer (2018).”

Senior Patrick DuChene played the role of Daryl in the musical. He said the festival ended up being more than he initially expected because of the educational opportunities available there. 

“I went really expecting it to just revolve around ‘Bright Star,’ but the entire festival was incredible,” DuChene said. “The educational opportunities we all had there were awesome. Being able to work in a professional house like that with ‘Bright Star’ was an incredible experience for sure.”

West Orange’s theater department is the first to be granted the rights to perform “Bright Star” at the high-school level. Students first performed the show in fall 2017 and also performed it at the Florida State Thespian in Tampa during the spring, Director Tara Whitman said.

“All of the work, all of the struggles, all of the paperwork and the finances — it was worth it,” Whitman said. “We will always be the high-school premier production (of ‘Bright Star’). I will always be the director of the high-school premier production. We will always have that.”

Prior to taking the show on the road, the department needed to raise $80,000 to cover the expenses of the trip. 

“The kids did a great job of fundraising,” Whitman said. “We were able (to go) thanks to donations and selling as many tickets to all of our shows last year.”

Senior Isabel Sugrue played the role of Mama Murphy and also served as costume chief for the production. 

“I did both acting and technical, but would 100% say that the technical aspect was even scarier than just standing on stage and performing,” she said.

Junior Patrick Franks was a set technician for the show and in charge of loading and unloading the equipment. He said the limited time they had to get the show ready posed the biggest challenge.

“We didn’t have a separate time to unload the truck and put everything together,” Franks said. “We had three hours to do absolutely everything.”

Although Whitman and her students were challenged with the time crunch, they all kept their composure throughout the festival, and other festival-goers took notice.

“A big thing that we were actually complimented on from the faculty and everyone running the festival is how well-behaved my students are, how they all worked hard and that they were one of the most professional groups they had seen come in,” she said. “We had our best performance. We had done it for 10 months at that point. Our very last one that night was the best performance we ever gave of that show.”


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