RHS play earns highest acclaim on national stageAug 30, 2015 By Andrea Novotny, Staff Writer
Riverton High School theater students received a torrent of praise for their main stage performance during the International Thespian Festival this summer in Lincoln, Neb.
RHS's was one of 11 high school troupes from around the world chosen to perform on the main stage this year.
The local students' play, "Unexpected Tenderness" by Israel Horovitz, deals with the cycle of domestic violence within a Jewish family in a small town in the early 1950s.
The show left audience members in awe.
"We got treated like celebrities when we were walking around afterwards," said Andrew Thornton, who played the show's abusive father, Archie Stern.
Nic Fenton, who played Archie's son, "young Roddy," said he could hardly hear his own voice over the audience's loud sobbing during his final speech.
The performance garnered an outpouring of exclusively positive feedback, both in person and online. Social media was a popular avenue for festival attendees discussing performances this year, the cast said, and even on completely anonymous forums like Yik Yak, "Unexpected Tenderness" was given glowing reviews.
"We didn't see one negative post," Thornton said, "which is very surprising because those theater kids can be very cynical."
Courtney Olson, who played the family's mother, Molly Stern, read one of the posts that appeared on Yik Yak.
"Unexpected Tenderness slayed my emotions," she read. "Seriously amazing job to the cast and crew. I've never seen a show that made me want to puke because it was done perfectly before."
Olson said the messages that touched her most were those from audience members who said the show hit close to home.
"It just got people talking," she said.
Thornton said one message he received on Facebook read, "I didn't expect a show that was as dynamic, as honest and as heartbreaking as the one I witnessed in that theater. I'm sure you know now that your show has changed lives, but I need to reiterate how much it changed my perspective on the world."
By the time the group performed at the festival, the RHS students had had the script for nine months and had performed the full one hour and 45 minute version six times.
"Every time we've done it, we've grown our characters more and have a more in-depth understanding of our characters," Thornton said.
The RHS group performed on the final day of the festival, once at 3 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m.
Director Annette Benn Thornton said four or five other directors approached her after the first performance. They were particularly impressed, she said, that the show was accomplished on $200 budget -- thousands of dollars less than any other performance at the festival. She said some shows at the festival are produced on $100,000 budgets.
She said other directors praised the performance for its "groundedness," and "believability."
"'Attention to detail' was one of the things that I heard most," she said. "Not so much the set detail, but these actors, the detail is that they listen, and what goes on in their head."
RHS also took two monologue performers and two duet teams to the festival, all of which received a "4" rating - the highest possible score.
Kierra Muehler and Kassandra Kister both performed monologues. They were required to perform two contrasting monologues in three minutes.
Sarah McDonald and Victoria Verosky made up one duet team, and Thornton and Olson made up the other.
Both teams performed scenes from "Time Stands Still" by Donald Margulies.
When the students were not on stage, they were free to watch other performances, attend a variety of acting-related workshops and network with professionals in the field.
One night, there was an improvisation competition. Against seven other teams, the RHS team of Fenton, Thornton, Olson, McDonald, Kister, and Verosky took second place.