VTA 2014: A Parent’s View


We are on the bus back to Arlington after an amazing, eye-opening, inspirational (and exhausting!) weekend at the Virginia Theatre Association’s (VTA) annual conference, this year in Norfolk. I encourage you to get your kid’s view on the conference. Ask them about their experience; ask them about the other shows, and ask them about the workshops. Ask them also about their interactions with students from other school, training, and backgrounds.

We left before the crack of dawn Friday (well before the crack of dawn, in fact: around 5am). Even at that hour of the morning (of the night?), the students were eager and raring to go. Everyone helped and quickly loaded the bus, and we were off.

Dawn finally broke as we headed into Norfolk. Upon arriving at the hotel, we were met with the first of what turned out to be several logistical challenges. Since we couldn’t check in for several hours, where would we stash our stuff? Lynette McCracken to the rescue. She emerged from the hotel with a key to a store room that she had convinced the hotel staff to let us use. The students quickly unloaded the bus’ contents into the store room.

Before we went our separate ways, Carol Cadby gave the students their final instructions, which I can best summarize as “be flexible and use your common sense.” First, be flexible. Throughout the weekend, I observed that being on stage requires flexibility. Not everything goes according to plan. Actors forget lines and miss cues. The stage may not set or lit just as expected. Through it all, the students learn to adapt and move on. Second, common sense. Empowering the students with this respect and strong sense of self set the tone for the weekend. Yes, there were specific instructions regarding checking in with chaperones, but the gist of it was still to just use your common sense. Students walked away knowing they had the respect of their teachers, but also knowing that misuse of that respect would affect their sense of self and their Yorktown and theatre community.

The students scattered to their different activities. I accompanied a group to a hotel a few blocks away for auditions. There, we met our second logistical challenge. Instead of the 15 theatre companies scheduled for the auditions, only one had shown up. The students were not fazed in the slightest. They played their “flexibility” card, performed their auditions, and chalked it up to experience.

Friday afternoon, the students had an opportunity to take in other shows, visit with representatives from a wide variety of colleges, and interact with many other students and leaders from around the state. Seeing the other shows lets the students see other styles and approaches. There is not right or wrong, just different.
Watching other shows, I realized I had taken for granted the YHS Theatre experience. Almost all the other shows center on a small handful of actors. The leads dominate; others have supporting roles. The YHS Ensemble experience reinforces the need for the entire community of actors to excel. It does “take a village” to stage a YHS performance!

Around dinner time on Friday, the students did one last rehearsal. This run through in the hotel ballroom let them experience the acoustics that were very different from the YHS Theater. With just about 12 hours to showtime, I could tell the students were on their game.
Friday evening there was a Tech Olympics. This gave the students a chance to demonstrate their tech skills. I didn’t get a chance to see this, but later that evening, the texts started flying: the Yorktown team had won the Tech Olympics!

Saturday morning, Yorktown performed its show, “The Long View”, at 9am. Pretty early for high school students (although there was even an 8am slot, so it could have been worse), especially when you consider the 6:30 wake up call. I was amazed that the nuances called out for improvement just the night before all carried through to the morning with no other rehearsals. The performance spaces at the convention were all very tight. In the second row, I was only about 5 feet from the stage. It was an incredible experience, feeling like I was almost sitting on the stage, watching the students nail every aspect of the performance.

Before the awards ceremony, Carol Cadby gathered the students together. She reminded them that the lessons learned from the experience go beyond winning or losing. She reminded them to be happy for those who do win, but to remember that they did their best. She reminded them that, just like in “real life,” there is much subjectivity in the world, and that is not a reflection of their skills.

Yorktown was not selected as a finalist. The students were disappointed, but they took it in stride. They went on to the conference dinner and the Costume Ball. The next day, we got to see the six finalists performed again. What an incredible experience to see five hours of top-notch high school theatre in a row.
At the end of the shows, we all piled back on the bus for the ride back to Arlington. As we arrived at Yorktown, we concluded a positive experience I know we will all remember for a very long time.

The students learned much from the experience. I also learned. I learned how the students will take the lessons of the conference, and their total YHS Theatre experience, with them for the rest of their lives.

  • The students learn that the YHS Theatre community provides a solid support structure upon which they will build, a support structure that will be with them no matter where they go. There is a strong Theatre community brought to life in the ensemble nature of the performances, and it is an integral part of the Yorktown High School community and, in fact, the entire Arlington community.
  • The students learn to respect others. They learn to respect the viewpoints of others in internalizing their characters that they perform. They also learn to respect how other students and other schools approach their theatre experience. They learn to respect the opinions of the judges, even if they don’t agree with them.
    And, while the central tenet of YHS Theatre is “It’s not about you,” the students learn incredible self-esteem which will carry them far. This sense of self is critical in performing, but even more critical as they go beyond YHS Theatre, beyond YHS, and beyond Arlington.
  • Education is not about awards. It’s about learning. If there is one thing I learned this weekend, it’s that the YHS Theatre community is all about learning.

Steve Anders, Theatre IV Parent