Students around Carroll prepare as Maryland State Thespian Festival approaches

Liberty High School theater students practice choreography Jan. 3, 2018.

In less than two weeks, theater programs from around the state will make their way to Towson to showcase their best performances and theatrical skills.

And with the Maryland State Thespian Festival approaching, theater programs in Carroll County are putting the finishing touches on their acts.


Francis Scott Key High School’s program is no exception — the school is putting on “The Amish Project,” a show about a shooting that happened at an Amish school in 2006, Justin Patterson, a 10th-grader at FSK, said. A man went into an Amish schoolhouse with the intention of abusing children, he said, and instead shot them and himself.

“Our show is a series of interviews and different perspectives from different people,” Patterson added, such as the shooter, shooter’s wife and people in the town.

The Maryland State Thespian Festival, put on by the Maryland Thespians, a state chapter of the International Thespian Society, puts on a two-day festival each year. The event, which is scheduled for Jan. 12 and 13 at Towson University, includes workshops for students, one act performances, individual competitive events, provides college scholarship opportunities for students and professional development for educators, according to its website.

Francis Scott Key High School students stand in costume Jan. 3, 2018
Francis Scott Key High School students stand in costume Jan. 3, 2018 (Submitted art)

This is Patterson, and his school’s, second year getting to go to the festival.

“It’s like the highlight of all of our year,” he said. “We get to go and be surrounded by people who understand our geekiness as theater kids and understand what it’s like to be running around art rehearsals and to be there at 10 o’clock at night. … It’s extremely exciting, and it’s a good way to start off the year.”

Roberta Gore, drama teacher for FSK, said it’s especially exciting for the school to get to go this year, because originally they didn’t think they could afford to go two years in a row.

“The thing that happens at [the festival] … you’re literally performing in this space where 100 percent of the people in the space love theater, and they are all applauding you and cheering for you and understanding you. … It’s incredibly good for kids to feel like what they do is being received well,” she added.

Carroll County Public Schools has a number of school’s programs going, some doing one-act performances, others taking part in individual competitions.

Manchester Valley High School has students going to perform a one-act play called “Valentine,” an original piece written by former student Bethany Cox, Bobbi Vinson, drama teacher, said via email. The one-act takes place in a classroom of second-grade students with “immensely conflicting personalities,” she said.

“As Valentine’s Day approaches, the smell of love and Elmer’s glue is in the air! Crushes are surfacing between the most unlikely pairings, and our sweet Ms. Honeywell has her eye on the painfully awkward Mr. Wallace,” Vinson said. “Each student is expected to make a valentine for their classmates, but when a star student has her heart broken, it seems the valentines have been mysteriously scrambled.”

At South Carroll High School, students will perform the one act “And Others” by Dennis Bush, published by Brooklyn Publishers, Caitlin Widner, drama teacher at the school, said via email. It is about a young woman with dissociative identity disorder, she said, who is reliving the trauma that caused her to dissociate in the first place.

“My seniors are very excited about this show because it is so intense and gives them an opportunity for a lot of character work. We only bring juniors and seniors inducted into our troupe (2921) of the International Thespian Society to Festival, but our extracurricular drama program, Stagelighters, involves over 100 students at South Carroll,” Widner said.

Century High School isn’t performing a one act for competition this year, Lucas Hewitt, director at the school, said via email. After earning second place last year, Hewitt said, they chose not to compete this year, but will return next year. A few students are competing in individual events, he added.

Like Century, Liberty High School won’t perform a one-act at the festival. This week, while some in the program were practicing choreography for their musical, “The Little Mermaid,” many were also preparing themselves to perform solo in competition in less than two weeks.

Liberty High School drama students stretch and warm-up before rehearsal January 3, 2018.
Liberty High School drama students stretch and warm-up before rehearsal January 3, 2018. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Tenth-grader Rachel Jancarek will head to the festival for the first time this year and is performing independently, singing “Out of my Dreams” from “Oklahoma!”

Jancarek said she’s more excited than nervous, and that theater is something she wants to continue in the future.

“I’m really passionate about theater. ... That’s the career I want to pursue,” she added.

And while many are excited for the upcoming festival, theater is a lot more than the two-day workshop.

Danielle Dickstein, who’s in charge of the theater program at Liberty, said after a number of different directors in recent years, she’s trying to teach the kids about all that theater can offer the students.

“I’m working really hard with them this year with the idea of theater as a community, of building families, of uplifting each others talents and understanding that for the vast majority of theater, no show can be done with one person,” she said.