By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN Dassel-Cokato high school theater director Dave Metcalf and his students can marvel in the fact that their hard work has won them a nomination to apply to participate in one of the world’s largest performing arts festivals.
In February, following DC’s one-act performance of “After Magritte” at the state festival, Metcalf was informed he and his students had been nominated to apply to the American High School Theater Festival (AHSTF) and Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland for 2010.
The AHSTF takes place in conjunction with the Fringe Festival, where thousands of actors, directors, writers, producers, artisans and theater-goers gather.
The purpose of the AHSTF is to give drama students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their skills in an international setting.
A fellow colleague of Metcalf’s, Gregg Sawyer, who is the artistic director for the Academy of Holy Angels, nominated DC students and Metcalf.
In order to be able to apply, a school must be nominated by either a director of a theater association or by an AHSTF alumni. Sawyer and his team went to the festival in 2000.
Tracy Hegstrom, a Dassel-Cokato graduate and the theater director for Buffalo High School, also attended the festival with her students in 2007.
Schools are chosen by a board of advisors, who rank criteria in the submitted application including most recent works, honors and awards, technical ability, community involvement, philosophies, recommendations, and overall dramatic excellence.
Those chosen are asked to represent the US at the Fringe as members of the AHSTF.
If accepted, Metcalf would choose a play, hold auditions, and have a year to prepare for the August 2010 festival.
“This would be a huge honor,” Metcalf said, adding it’s an honor in itself to be nominated to apply.
Since thc cost of the trip is approximately $6,000 per participant, a fundraising element would also be needed in order to keep the cost down for students if the school is selected.
The three-page application describing past plays and musicals performed by DC students and highlighting their successes has been submitted. Metcalf is expected to hear back from the advisory board yet this spring.
If selected, Metcalf would also need to take a “familiarization trip” this coming August to see just how the festival works.
Wayzata High School was among 53 other US high schools that were selected to represent the US at this year’s festival.
Though Metcalf is grateful for the opportunity and honor to apply, he thinks it might be difficult to be accepted with no theater program within the school’s curriculum.
One of the questions in the application was, “In your opinion, what sets your theater program apart from those of other high schools?”
With only extracurricular theater programs and no elective classes to teach drama students, Metcalf is concerned the DC theater program could phase out especially with so many of its veterans graduating this year.
“Without a program to teach the basics, it just makes it difficult,” Metcalf said.
With no real commitment to a grade or course, students participate voluntarily, according to Metcalf.
“You get those who are committed, and others who are testing the waters,” Metcalf said.
Those just “testing the waters” oftentimes don’t realize the time commitment nor have the dedication necessary to rehearse and produce a competitive performance, explained Metcalf.
Metcalf emphasized that he is retired from teaching, but just wants to see the DC kids continue to have the opportunity to perform.
“I would hate to see a theater program that has had as much success as it has, dwindle and fade away,” Metcalf said.
DC School Board Member Irene Bender is in support of a drama program, but noted the already demanding student schedules due to graduation requirements and a full elective schedule.
According to Curriculum Director Lorene Force, a program would be a great addition.
Unfortunately, without a teacher with drama background already on staff, and with an already full elective schedule, an acting class is not likely at this time.
Not only is it not in the budget, but other electives would have to be cut, Force explained, adding however, that the discussion was not a closed door.