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North Moore Stands Out

North Moore Stands Out at International Play Festival
North Moore Stands Out at International Play FestivalMary Kate Murphy, The Pilot

A troupe of 19 theater students from North Moore High arrived last month as newcomers to the International Thespian Festival.

But just five days later, they had made their mark and carried off one of the festival’s top acting awards into the bargain.

Kimberly Fielder-Jones, North Moore’s theater director, said that the International Thespian Excellence Awards — known as the “Thespys — are to high school theater what the Tony Awards are for Broadway.

But they’re just the tip of the iceberg at the International Festival. This year’s event brought more than 300 high school troupes to Indiana University in June.

“It’s such a cool festival for theater kids in general because they get to spend five days with kids that are very similar to them with very similar interests,” said Fielder-Jones.

“The auditoriums were full… it was an even bigger spectrum than we anticipated.”

On top of traditional one-act ensemble performances, the Thespian Festival circuit gives budding theater professionals a chance to shine as individuals — even if their talents lie behind the scenes. Students compete in everything from costume design to playwriting as well as various acting categories.

Industry professionals lead a full slate of workshops throughout the week. Students dreaming of their names in lights get exposure to the fundamentals of dance, stage management and how to live in New York City.

The festival also staged a 24-hour play production activity hosted by actor Jesse Eisenberg. North Moore senior Emma Mack participated as a writer, and senior Elijah Brown as an actor.

Teams of students had 24 hours to “do a play” from start to finish: writing, casting, rehearsal and performance.

Students stayed in Indiana University dormitories, but sleeping barely made it onto the agenda.

“It only took the first day of them being there before they realized they’d better go to sleep,” Fielder-Jones said. “That 7 a.m. breakfast call came early.”

North Moore earned a stage slot in Indiana with its performance at the North Carolina Thespian Festival in Greensboro this spring. The students’ production of Ed Monk’s “Booby Trap” not only earned a superior rating at the state level but was one of the top 20 performances at festivals worldwide. The show explores the final hours of a soldier who is trapped on top of a land mine, his recollections of the past and imaginings of the future as he slowly loses hope of rescue.

Duet

North Moore High senior Elijah Brown, left, and junior Alexander Simpson won the top award for duet acting last month at the International Thespian Excellence Awards at Indiana University.

The festival showcased the full range of Elijah Brown and Alexander Simpson, the show’s stars. The pair also qualified to compete for an award in the duet acting category. Their performance of the climactic final courtroom scene in Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” earned a superior rating at the state festival.

Alexander, portraying the contemptuous Col. Jessup, and Elijah as the young naval attorney questioning him, reprised their performance. Their characterization, vocal projection and commitment to every aspect of creating authentic characters earned them another superior rating in Indiana.

But they were one entry of more than 50 to receive that high rating. After competing on the first day of the festival, they had to wait until the Thespy Awards presentation on the final night to learn that they were voted the top performance in the entire category, with perfect scores from all three judges.

Getting her students to the festival was one of Fielder-Jones’ goals when she directed them toward the Thespian circuit for the first time this year. She’s previously directed students to accolades at the North Carolina Theater Conference, which named her statewide K-12 Theater Arts Educator of the year for 2021.

But even so she couldn’t have imagined how well North Moore’s Thespian Festival debut would turn out.

“We’re going to go to regionals every year. The kids loved it. Even if we don’t qualify to perform next year we’d like to go and do the workshops,” she said.

“We were complimented about how much the staff enjoyed talking to my kids and how they’re all such good friends and how supportive they are of each other.”
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