SCHS Theater troupe headed to national conference
It’s a Friday morning at St. Charles High School and the students of International Thespian Society Troupe 1171, better known as the Pirate Players, are huddled in theater director Courtney LaChance-Denton’s office that’s packed tightly with props, costumes and fabric. Despite being just hours away from the weekend performances of their spring play “The Uninvited”, the students are brimming with excitement about a different play, one they haven’t performed since January 11th.
The St. Charles High fall play “She Kills Monsters”, written by Qui Nguyen, was selected as a top five high school play in the country and will be performed at the International Thespian Festival held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from June 24th-29th. This is the first time the troupe has been invited to the conference.
At the festival, not only will the students get a chance to perform and be judged by some of the top professionals in the industry, they can compete for college scholarships, attend workshops and network with theater students across the country and from Canada.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students,” said LaChance-Denton, St. Charles High School theater teacher. “It’s an amazing honor for all of us and it opens so many doors for the students.”
“She Kills Monsters” is a play that dives into the world of the role-playing fantasy game “Dungeons & Dragons”. While the play is regarded as a action-packed dramatic comedy, themes of love, loss, coming out and acceptance give the script the depth and emotional heft to go beyond its physical attributes.
“When selecting the fall play, I really wanted to find something that was really relevant to the lives of teenagers now and ‘She Kills Monsters’ is across the board relevant to teenagers and adults alike.” LaChance-Denton said.
While the Pirate Players first debuted the play during the third weekend of November 2018, planning and production started during the previous school year. Auditions for the play were held in May 2018. Rehearsals started the first day of the 2018-19 school year. Due to the physical nature of the play, actors needed to have their lines memorized on the first day of rehearsals in order to be able wield their swords and engage in combat.
The physicality of the script posed its own challenges for the troupe. Actors needed to learn choreography, sword skills and the ability to emote while engaged in battle to make the scenes believable. And all of this needed to be done while maintaining a level of strength and endurance that allowed the actors to remain safe during the battle scenes and to continue their craft until the end of the play.
“At the beginning of all the training, we were definitely out of our comfort zone,” said Olivia Potthoff, SCHS junior. “It took awhile for it to feel natural.”
Actors weren’t only one ones getting in early on the action. The set and costume production was designed and created entirely by SCHS students, including a five-headed dragon called the Tiamat. The props crew worked diligently from the start of the year to put their own personal touch on each of the five heads that were made entirely from scratch using cardboard, foam, cotton batting, chicken wire and fabric. The result is an array of dragon heads that shimmer, smoke, lit up and have their own distinct personality.
In the end, all of the troupe’s hard work and effort paid off. The play was selected to be performed at the Missouri Thespian Conference last January, where it was secretly adjudicated by Broadway veterans and submitted to the international conference. As a result, the Pirate Players will get to perform on the biggest of stages, figuratively and literally.
“We couldn’t be prouder of the cast and crew,” Potthoff said. “To think we didn’t have a troupe three years ago and now we’re going to nationals is amazing.”
One final hurdle for the troupe is raising funds to get to the International Thespian Conference. The troupe is made up of 32 students and it costs just over $800 in all for each student to attend the week-long event. To help with the cost, the Pirate Players will be holding an encore performance of the play on May 25th at 7 PM at the St. Charles High Auditorium. In addition to the performance, LaChance-Denton has also set up a Donors Choose page that will allow the SCSD community to show their support for this amazing opportunity.
“While any donations would be great, what really makes a difference for us is seeing the support of the community in the seats,” said David Perez, SCHS senior. “Having people watch our shows and be active with the arts, orchestra and theater means more to us than money.”
To learn more about the fundraising goals of International Thespian Troupe 1171, please click here to visit their Donors Choose page. Donors Choose will match any donation up to $50 until April 20th.