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Barlow actors emerge 'Stronger' from national competition

International Thespian Society awards first place to young actors

If you’re a student or employee at Barlow High School this fall, you will likely run into some nationally acclaimed actors in the hallways.

That’s right, students from the school’s theatre department, under the direction of Jeff Schroeder, took first place for their group musical performance of “Stronger,” from the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland,” at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb., June 20-25. The students’ final rendition of “Stronger” took place at Lied Center for the Performing Arts in front of more than 5,000 high school theater students, educators and professionals from all over the United States.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The award-winning Barlow cast poses with the medals they won for performing 'Stronger' from 'Finding Neverland.'

Tristan Craft, 17, will be a senior this fall and was pleased with how well he and the other actors did.

“We’re just kind of a small public school, so it’s amazing that we got the opportunity,” he said. “The true award was getting to perform.”

In April, 24 Barlow students won first place in the State Thespian Chapter Select One-Act Festival, qualifying them to represent Oregon at the national event. While there, they performed the award-winning one-act “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead,” by William Mastrosimone. The play raises awareness about bullying, school violence and its causes, and is based on the events surrounding the shootings on May 20, 1998, at Thurston High School in Springfield.

“The students performed at the Howell Theater at the University of Nebraska on (June 24) to a packed house,” Schroeder said. “The audience, while in tears, gave the students a standing ovation, and gave rave reviews on social media and in person, after the performance.”CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The award-winning Barlow cast poses with the medals they won for performing 'Stronger' from 'Finding Neverland.'

Craft portrayed the one-act’s protagonist, Josh.

“It was nerve-wracking,” he said of performing such a difficult role. “I really got inside the head of a kid who would be a school shooter.”

Meanwhile, 13 of the “Bang, Bang” actors, including Craft, joined three other Barlow students in a performance of “Stronger.”

Alec Anderson, a 2016 graduate, played J. M. Barrie, famed author of “Peter Pan.” Anderson said the cast had to perform the song four times at the competition.

“It just seemed like the more and more we did it, the more confident everybody got about themselves, including me,” he said, noting dancing and singing is challenging, a point echoed by Laura Rizzo, 17, who will be a senior at Barlow this year. Rizzo took home a medal for her solo performance of “I Can’t Do It Alone” from “Chicago.”

“I’ve been dancing for a lot longer than I’ve been in theater,” she says, crediting her choreographer Cami Curtis for helping her. “It definitely takes a lot of stamina, and I was always out of breath when I finished it.”

Getting a little winded was worth it, she added.

“I think it was a good ending to the year because I’ll probably never perform it again, and it was nice to get a medal,” she said.

Schroeder and the students commended Curtis as well as Schroeder’s wife, Amber Schroeder, Barlow’s choir director, for helping the high school thespians hit the heights in Nebraska.

“I want to make sure the community recognizes the teamwork that went into helping make the national title for our group musical a possibility,” he said.

Festival facts

The International Thespian Festival celebrates student achievement in the performing arts, and features workshops presented by theater professionals, 11 full length main stage productions, programs for technical theater students, and opportunities to audition for college admission and scholarships. Supported by the Educational Theatre Association, this organization has inducted more than two million theater students since its founding in 1929.

For more information, visit schooltheatre.org/events/thespianfestival.