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One-Act Festival makes for another grand weekend

By Julie Ooms

For two days this past November, Dordt’s theatre department was more crowded than usual. On November 16 and 17, eight groups of students from high schools across the Midwest—eighty-one students in all—gathered to share their passion for theater with their peers. The “wonderful madhouse” (as Dordt Theatre Arts Professor Teresa Ter Haar describes it) that resulted was the High School One Act Festival.

"One-acts are a good way to tell a complete story in a short period of time," says Professor Jeri Schelhaas. "And they travel well, making it easy to show others what a group of actors has been able to do."

High schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, South Dakota, Indiana, and Iowa sent their theater students to Dordt to participate in the festival. Each school came prepared to put on a one-act show, which they shared with other students at the festival. Dordt theater students also prepared a one-act play for the event. After each performance, the audience of students responded to the show.

“The responses they get from their peers helps teach them to think about theater from other perspectives,” Ter Haar says. “It also gives them the opportunity to talk about theater with other high school students who are interested in it.”

In addition to the one-act performances, the high schoolers also participated in workshops. This year, according to Ter Haar, students could attend workshops on acting, stage combat, improvisation, Shakespearean dance, costume design, and playwriting. “It’s a learning experience for them, but it’s a fun experience as well,” she says. She and her colleagues in the theatre arts department are already talking about what they will do in two years, the next time the festival is held.

The festival is the result of the combined efforts of the theatre arts department and the admissions office at Dordt. While Ter Haar and her colleagues planned workshops and helped prepare their students for the arrival of the high schoolers, admissions staff took care of the logistics. They found places for the students to stay on Friday night, set up campus tours, and made sure they got meals during their time here. “I’m so appreciative of the admissions office’s willingness to be creative,” says Ter Haar. “They were really wonderful partners.”

Indeed, it makes sense that the admissions office was involved, because one of the reasons for the festival is recruitment. But Ter Haar considers that a “side benefit” of the weekend. “The festival is one of the theatre arts department’s major recruitment opportunities,” she says, “but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for both the high school and the Dordt students involved. Dordt students get to share their knowledge of theater and show leadership, while the high school students have the opportunity to meet others who share their passion for theater.”

But the main benefit, Ter Haar says, is that both groups walk away from the festival knowing the work they do is valuable and worthwhile. “We want to share the gift of theater with these students, and show them that the work they do is as important as the work other students do,” she says. “They get to see how their work can affect people outside the theater department in their own high school, and that expands their world.”