Panther theatre takes the train

Published 10:08 am Friday, July 20, 2012

PHS theatre students, from left, Brooke Thompson, Cameron Lee, Ashton Johnson, Caylin Cobb and John Kennedy in front of The Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. (contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“We didn’t have the money to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska-the site of this year’s International Thespian Festival,” said PHS Theatre teacher Jamie Stephenson, “but taking students to ITF allows us to start the school year strong.”

With creative thinking and generous community support, Stephenson found another path to ITF.

“Amtrak had a great rate. None of the kids had travelled by train before, so they were excited,” Stephenson said. “We saw beautiful countryside and saved money.”

PHS students Brooke Thompson, Caylin Cobb, Ashton Johnson, John Kennedy and Cameron Lee attended ITF. Thompson and Cobb competed in the Individual Events at the Festival. They received superiors on their performances.

“The students attended two workshops a day while I worked as the assistant scholarship coordinator for the National Educational Theatre Association’s scholarship program,” Stephenson said.

Students made friends from high schools all over the country, watched their performances and were inspired by the level of dedication and talent they witnessed.

“We’re good, but we can be better,” Lee said. “We’re inspired to take our performances to the next level.”

“I always preach that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard; giving students a visual example is stronger than a classroom lecture,” Stephenson said.

A day in Chicago rounded out the trip. Students visited the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium and Grant Park, Magnificent Mile and Lincoln Park Zoo. They saw Navy Pier, The Hancock Observatory and the Willis Tower.

Before leaving Chicago, PHS students attended a production at the Lookingglass Theatre Company. This original musical written by the company was a beautiful story about the sinking of the Eastland.

“After the show, we couldn’t stop talking about it. That’s what good theatre does-it touches you so deeply that you feel the need to discuss it long after the performance,” said Stephenson.

Panther Theatre is planning a 2012-13 season to keep our community talking. Productions will include “Arabian Nights,” “Steel Magnolias” and a musical revue featuring scenes and songs from Broadway.

“And possibly more,” said Stephenson. “PHS theatre students are driven to perform.”


Connie Nolen can be reached by email at