Virginia Thespian Conference comes to Radford

Robyn Berg, assistant professor of theatre, taught several workshops and worked with students to develop movement and character skills.

Hundreds of Virginia's most talented young performers spent a weekend on the Radford University campus at the Virginia Thespians Conference Jan. 29-31.

The annual conference offered the attendees – nearly 600 Virginia high school students, from freshman to seniors – the chance to immerse themselves in performance and learn from professional theatrical artists.

In addition to the more than 280 workshop sessions on offer at the conference, three high schools performed full-length productions in Radford's Bondurant Auditorium. Eleven other high schools performed one act plays in Pridemore Playhouse or Hawes Studio Theatre.

High school Drama Director Michelle Machay '93 brought 40 of her Frank W. Cox High School students to experience the arts at Radford University she enjoyed years ago.

"The experience is crucial for my students," Machay said. "They gain knowledge. They gain exposure. They see that outside our school district, that the arts are very important. They are validated in their passion. I'm all about teaching my students to live their passion- if they live their passion, everything else falls into place."

Machay first brought students to the VSTC conference in 2015, her first year in the drama position at the Virginia Beach high school. She was excited to return with more than double the students than last year.

Among them was senior Dayna Janson.

"I've always wanted to come here, since my freshman year," Janson said. "I love acting, and I recently found that I'm pretty good at voice acting."

Janson said she was most excited about learning new techniques of acting and "anything that could push me to be a better actress."

"I hope to grow as a person and have a lot of new experiences," Janson said. "I'm looking forward to having fun and making new friends."


Amy VanKirk, assistant professor of dance, volunteered her time to teach "Musical Theatre Dance" at the conference.

The workshops began Friday afternoon and continued into Sunday. They were led by a mix of RU faculty and outside teachers, including Devon Glover, also known as "The Sonnet Man."

Glover, of Brooklyn, went through the New York City Public School system, where he said he struggled with Shakespeare literature. In order to help others better understand the material, he now travels the globe to deliver Shakespeare's sonnets as originally written, then breaks it down into "spoken word."

"Shakespeare used to intimidate me, and now I'm performing Shakespeare," Glover explained to students during his Friday afternoon workshop in Whitt Hall.

Glover read and rapped two of Shakespeare's sonnets and then challenged students to write a sonnet of their own.

Senior Sam Edwards of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach said he was looking to learn from inspirational actors, such as Glover, who could help him "get my foot in the industry."

"When you talk to different people with experience in acting, you get different views and different advice and you see a lot of talent," Edwards said. "That's exactly what I want to leave here with."

In addition to the performance and workshop opportunities, 14 colleges and universities sent representatives to campus to help prepare students for auditions for college theatre programs.

Radford University theatre students are also lent a hand, leading workshops and coordinating the conference, giving them opportunities in professional event management.

For more information about Radford University's involvement in the Virginia Thespians Conference, contact the Radford Department of Theatre and Cinema at 540-831-5141.

Feb 2, 2016