Twelve students from Pittsburg High School’s theatre program have qualified to perform at the International Thespian Festival (ITF) after receiving honors during the Kansas Thespian Festival held in Wichita Jan. 3 to Jan. 5.
Competing for the first time in the One-Act Play category, PHS Theatre took first place with their version of “Dog Sees God”, which reimagines the characters of the comic strip Peanuts as teenagers dealing with issues such as bullying, drug use, sexual identity and even suicide. The show was directed by junior McKenna Shaw with Julian Archuleta, Franchesca Brownhanney, Hannah Casper, Griffin Cooper, Aidan Harries, Jazmin Havens, Maddy Shawn, and Dominic Stefanoni filling out the cast. PHS Theatre Director Greg Shaw believes his students’ ability to handle more mature themes is what led to their success.
“Keeping it grounded, keeping people from laughing at those situations and understanding, we see that in high school, we see that in college all the time,” Shaw said. “So, to be able to empathize and sympathize with what they’re going through, and to hate a character because of what they are putting somebody else through. Just having that ability to understand those characters, that’s what resonated.”
To add to the program’s success, not only was the play the first time competing in the One-Act category, it was also a production that was left almost entirely in the hands of the students.
“I only watched the show one time before, and that was just to make sure it was appropriate, they weren’t taking any gratuitous leaps off cliffs,” Shaw said. “I was really impressed with it and had very little to tell them. I almost had nothing to do with it. The students stepped up and handled it.”
The opportunity showed not only what the students could do, but also provide an opportunity to continue growing.
“The most important thing I learned was to push the boundaries of what I feel comfortable doing on my own and in front of other people,” said senior Aidan Harries. “This show really did that for me, it really put me in an uncomfortable situation that helped me overcome that and helped me better understand that aspect of theater.”
In addition to the One-Act Play, sophomore Sarah Stebbins qualified to perform in the National Individual Event Showcase in her musical theatre vocal audition by earning three “Superior” scores.
PHS Theatre also received Golden Troupe recognition based on their body of work and community service last year, with Shaw named Teacher of the Year for Region 4.
While Shaw wished to extend the honor to the rest of performing arts program and PHS in general, his daughter McKenna could not help but feel glad.
“Everyone has their ‘proud dad’ or ‘proud mom’ moment. This is my ‘proud daughter’ moment.” She said.
The Shaws, along with Gabe Anderson and Emma Noonoo, will also be performing at ITF as part of the Kansas All-State production of “Bring It On” on June 24 to June 29 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.