Westerville Education Foundation grants support North theatre programs during the pandemic

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Thanks to $2,050 in grants from the Westerville Education Foundation, Westerville North High School’s theatre students can participate in a state theatre conference from home as well as bring theatre performances into the homes of community members.

Kim Mollohan, North’s theatre director, received a $1,300 grant to cover student registration fees for the Ohio Educational Theatre Association’s (OHEDTA) 2021 State Conference, expanding statewide virtual event on March 27 and April 24 to more students. The conference typically includes student workshops in playwriting, puppetry, dance, college auditions and LGBTQ issues, as well as professional development and networking opportunities for educators.

“State conference gives over 1,500 high school thespians the opportunity to embrace the art form they love,” Mollohan said. 

She said that North Theatre has brought much-needed joy to the students this year, providing students with some normalcy and positivity. 

“As theatre teaches the art of commitment, dedication, responsibility, tolerance, self-esteem, trust, empathy, patience and understanding, these are all good skills to have when life is challenging,” she said.

Senior Sawyer Swick attended and acted in North’s performance of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the 2019 OHEDTA State Conference. He was cast in “May 4th Voices,” the 2020 OHEDTA All-Ohio show, which was canceled due to COVID earlier this year. 

Swick encourages North students to attend the virtual 2021 OHEDTA State conference. “The pool of talent is immeasurable and incredible. If you’re an aspiring actor, singer, dancer, or all three, there will be great examples of amazing performers to watch,” he said. 

Seniors Christian Potter, Addie Schmitt, Nathan Gillenwater, Autumn Nelson, Elise McGann, Lauren McCann, Daniel Hager and Swick received a $750 grant toward streaming the one-act plays they recently directed. Their four plays were staged together as this year’s Senior-Directed One Acts (SD1A), performed Nov. 18-20 at North.

Due to the pandemic, in-person attendance at this year’s SD1A was much lower than normal. Seating was capped at 15% of North auditorium’s usual capacity. This meant that some who wanted to attend could not get tickets. Others who normally would have attended SD1A couldn’t attend due to health concerns or travel restrictions. In their grant application, the student directors noted that a streamed option enables them to bring their shows to the larger audience.

The four SD1A plays to be live-streamed include: Potter and Schmitt’s “Check Please” by Jonathan Rand; McGann and McCann’s “Bullies Anonymous” by E.M. Bell; Gillenwater and Nelson’s “The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time” by Ian McWethy and Hager and Swick’s “Home Shopping Studios Live!” by Claire Epstein. Sam Fahmi of Studio 79 donated his time and talents to record the Nov. 20 shows. 

Streaming arrangements are being worked out with the play publishing companies Playscripts and Stage Partners. The students hope to announce ticket information early next year.

Being part of SD1A was a meaningful experience for the student directors and their casts. 

“As directors, we wanted to create a positive and uplifting environment for our cast,” McCann said. “Our goal was to shine light on the true beauty of theatre. From making new friends, to making new memories, we wanted to show our cast that theatre can truly be magical.”

SD1A was also a growth and bonding experience for the directors. 

“Check and double-check everything, and don't be afraid to try new things. Sometimes an idea that you’re hesitant about can end up being one of the best decisions you make,” Gillenwater said. “Being in North theater has helped keep a sense of belonging and togetherness by working hard with each other during shows. It’s really cool to see the cast and crew work as a team and pull off a great show.”