A standing room only crowd packed Feinstein’s/54 Below on Sunday for the third annual International Thespian Society alumni benefit concert. The event, produced by theEducational Theatre Association (EdTA), home of the International Thespian Society, was chaired and hosted by Hunter Bell ([title of show], Found).
The evening featured Broadway stars performing alongside high school students who are inducted members of the theatre honor society for students, the International Thespian Society (ITS), and supports access and excellence in theatre for underserved schools. The stars–Ryan Haddad, Chad Kimball, Marla Louissaint, Lesli Margherita, John McGinty, Q. Smith, Carla Stickler, and Ana Villafañe–told personal tales of how they got started, complete with actual high school production photos. The Thespian cast represented 12 area high schools, the largest student cast to date for the event.
In celebrating the power of theatre education, Broadway Back to School raised funds to increase access to theatre for all students. EdTA Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald spoke of the importance of theatre in building life skills. One way EdTA is addressing this need, she explained, is through its JumpStart Theatre program that creates sustainable school musical theatre programs where there previously were none.
Theobald thanked all involved saying, “The most incredible Broadway stars brought the house down, shared their stories and hearts, and gave back to high school student Thespians. The audience was filled with generous people who care about putting students on a positive path for success through theatre education.”
Those who couldn’t make it in person could support the cause by participating in the first Broadway Back to School online auction, co-chaired by Sarah Jane Arnegger and Mathew Curtis Hagmeier. The items were all bespoke packages, created personally by the donors for theatre lovers. VIP tickets to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade garnered the highest bid.
In an evening filled with touching, memorable moments and highlights, among the standouts was the duet by Lesli Margherita and John McGinty, who performed “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line where he interpreted her singing through American Sign Language.
In addition, EdTA presented Playbill with its Standing Ovation Award in recognition of a corporation or organization that makes significant contributions to theatre education on the national level through philanthropic efforts or its programs and activities. Playbill runs print public service announcements about the value of school theatre in at least two Broadway houses every month, reaching an audience of more than 600,000 annually. Sarah Jane Arnegger, Playbill Educational Programs Business Manager, accepted the award.
The evening had a fairy-tale like ending when EdTA Hall of Fame theatre teacher Ruben Van Kempen of Seattle went on stage with his Broadway star student Chad Kimball, who originated the role of Huey Calhoun inMemphis, and Brody Grant, a newly graduated Thespian who is just a few months away from his own great performance as Huey at the International Thespian Festival in the Georgia All-State cast of Memphis.
Drew Cohen, president of MTI, said it was a great night, adding that anyone in that room would have seen the value and impact that EdTA and ITS delivers.
Sponsors included BookTix, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Broadway League, Disney Parks Live Entertainment, Mark Drum, National Theater Institute, The Musical Company, Music Theatre International, PLAYBILLder, Realtime Music Solutions, Samuel French, Tams-Witmark Music Library, and Broadway Life: Student Group Travel. Patrons included Hunter Bell, Dramatists Play Service, Glenn Halcomb, and Josh Criscoe. Donors included the Allstate Foundation, The Costumer, Frederic R. Coudert Foundation, and Kara Unterberg.