The Illinois High School Theatre Fest Experience: A Weekend in Wonderland

Over the past three years of my high school career, the idea of going to the Illinois High School Theatre Festival was always appealing to me, yet for some odd reason I never felt the conviction to go. I figured that missing two days of school and being in the … real world, for a couple of days was a terrifying experience I could postpone. However, fate decided to rope me into the trip through our fall play–The Complete History of America Abridged–being picked to go.

Following a four-hour bus ride from PR, we arrived at Urbana-Champaign and my eyes graced the University of Illinois campus for the first time in my life. The first real experience though were the so-called opening ceremonies. Our school awaited the start of this event whilst every other human being in the room was T-posing and chanting “Despacito” around us. Eventually some people came around to quell the madness, and we were treated to an hour lecture on behalf of a guy from SiriusXM. His speech was all about deconstructing music for interesting concepts explored by artists, both good and bad.

Afterwards we went back to the rather beat-up and terrifying Days Inn.

The following day was far more eventful than the last. Upon arriving at the campus, I took part in the ticket swap, a rather chaotic event in which tickets to high school performances are traded among the audience members. The line was a half a mile long, and people actively prowled along the lines looking for people with specific tickets. It was like the stock market, except for theater nerds. The rest of the day was pretty simplistic, made even simpler by the scheduling power of the handy app for Theatrefest.

I first went to see a performance of Clue viewing it as a research opportunity for the possibility of it being our spring play. It was absolutely outrageous and hilarious! I was thoroughly impressed not only with the performances, but also the creatively crafted set and energetic blocking.

Following, I made my way to a different building for a playwriting workshop. For some reason however, the instructor of this workshop didn’t show up, resulting in me going to a Shakespearean workshop across the way. It actually was quite interesting, as it delved into how to properly recite Shakespearean text based on clues like punctuation, capitalization, etc. I had never really thought about proper Shakespearean performance before, making this a rather valuable experience.

Before our evening performance, I went to one other workshop, a monologue workshop. It was a rather simple, lecture-based, class about how to go about choosing a monologue. Tips included reading the show the monologue was from and picking a monologue several months beforehand.

After a quick lunch, I went over to Lincoln Hall to begin preparing for our show. The performance went surprisingly well, and we had the most enthusiastic audience by far. The only setback was the audience booing as I came onstage as Trump … The icing on top of the cake was that our show received “the baby,” a nightmarish baby doll, known as an unofficial award for the “best show at Theatre Fest.” Allegedly, the baby is passed on from school to school each year to signify which show was the best of all of them.


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And we’re history! Goodnight!

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The next day was even simpler. Right off the bat, we began preparing for our morning show. Like the evening performance, it went very well, and the audience wasn’t quite as rowdy with their reactions to political humor. I will say, for the bit where I had to perform a Donald Trump impersonation, the audience gave me the best questions, including ones on climate change and flat earth conspiracies. Afterwards, we said goodbye to the show forever, packing up all the setpieces into the U-Haul truck under snowy skies.

I then made my way to see the all-state performance of In The Heights. An unexpected shock came to the party, however, when we learned we’d have to stay an extra night if we wanted to see the show, as our bus driver wouldn’t have been able to traverse the extremely snowy and slippery conditions. As a result, we stayed the night at the less terrifying Econo Lodge and went to see the show. I will say, the performance itself was worth it! It was extremely interesting to watch the musical we put on last year through a different lens, as an audience member this time. All the leads were well-cast, and the dance numbers were ingeniously choreographed!

To conclude, Theatrefest was an absolutely wonderful experience, especially considering the fact that we PR students got to perform there! I had a lot of fun, and I would certainly enjoy attending again. If you’re a part of PR’s theater program, I encourage you to consider partaking in it next year (even if our show doesn’t get selected).