Published on Thu., January 11, 2024

When their performance at the state conference this fall qualified them for the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC), Heritage High School students were ecstatic. A spot in the prestigious competition, reserved for the two best schools in each of the ten competing states, is one of the highest honors a student theatre program can receive. The only problem? Finding funds to get there. The cost of registration fees, travel, and lodging–adding up to tens of thousands of dollars—can be prohibitive for schools who receive this opportunity. 

But they won’t have to finance the trip on their own. On Jan. 20, Heritage High School students will present “The Trial of Ygor,” a thrilling courtroom-style retelling of the classic Frankenstein story, at the historic Academy Center of the Arts theatre. This one-night performance of their competition piece will help raise money for their trip to the SETC in Mobile, Alabama this March.

Group of students in matching shirts
Pioneer Theatre students placed second at the Virginia Theatre Association (VTA) conference in October.
Building Community through the Arts

“An opportunity like this—one of our city schools being recognized not just regionally, but nationally—is something I’d like to see celebrated by the community,” said Academy CEO Geoffrey Kershner. 

A high school theatre alumnus himself, Kershner remembers his time as an Amherst County High School thespian as a pivotal period in his life. Early in his career, he helped facilitate the SETC in Florida. He’s seen the value it can bring to students’ lives and to the community at large firsthand. 

“Here at the Academy, we believe the arts are critical to a healthy community, and whenever we see an opportunity to support the connection and means of expression they bring, we want to be a part of that,” Kershner said. 

Students performing “The Trial of Ygor.”
Heritage High students perform “The Trial of Ygor.” Photo by Wendy Meese.

Though many students have graced the Academy stage for community shows and summer programs, this is the first time Pioneer Theatre will bring their own show to the historic theatre.

“It’s such an honor. The community has been so welcoming to us, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to perform in such a nice and well-respected theatre,” said Heritage High 10th grader Macy Neal.

Two Theatre Programs, Both Alike in Dignity

The Academy isn’t the only organization to offer their support. Jefferson Forest High School theatre students dedicated a performance of their competition one-act “The Green Bird” to Pioneer Theatre this past December, raising more than $600 in one night.

“I had a talk with the kids after we found out Heritage was going to SETC. We’ve been twice before and know how expensive it can be. My students were very excited about the idea,” said Jefferson Forest theatre director Spencer White. 

Group photo of JF students on stage
Jefferson Forest theatre students raised funds for Heritage High with a special benefit show.

White and his students are well aware of the valuable opportunities awaiting SETC participants. Along with regional recognition and competition experience, students get chances to interview and audition with college and university performing arts programs. Classes and workshops help students sharpen their skills, and performances by other schools spark inspiration that follows them home.

Not to mention, it’s a whole lot of fun. Students meet their peers from other schools and leave with friends all over the East Coast.

“My classmates and I want the same fun experience for Heritage that we had when we went. I made so many fun memories at SETC, and I got close with so many people,” said Jefferson Forest 12th grader Maddie Howard.

Heritage High is heading to the SETC for the second time, having gone once before to perform their 2018 rendition of “Second Samuel.” It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a brand-new experience for the cast and crew of “The Trial of Ygor.”

Two photos of students performing "The Trial of Ygor "on stage
Heritage High students perform “The Trial of Ygor.” Photo by Wendy Meese.
The Road to the SETC is Paved with Solidarity

For Howard and many of her peers, Pioneer Theatre students aren’t just acquaintances across town—they’re dear friends. Summer programs, community theatre, extracurricular vocal training, and state conferences provide theatre students with opportunities to get to know their counterparts at other schools. 

“The kids love to go see each other’s shows and support one other. There’s a strong sense of community amongst the students,” said Heritage High theatre director Larry Hart.

School theatre programs in Lynchburg have created a culture of collaboration. They share materials, attend each other’s performances, and help each other spread the word about upcoming plays and musicals.

“I can’t count how many times I’ve called on other schools for help. Heritage was the first school to ever lend me anything. They let me borrow a spotlight when I first started,” White said. 

Likewise, a number of Pioneer Theatre students view the Academy as a home away from home. Their involvement with the Academy connects them with the larger theatre community in Lynchburg. 

Pioneer Theatre students and staff selfie
Heritage High students and staff celebrate their success at the VTA.

There’s a special sense of solidarity that connects people who love theatre—a common love of the arts that fuels this kind of mutual support. Heritage High students will remember the months leading up to the SETC for the outpouring of generosity from their community.

“It’s definitely an honor to receive so much support from the community. It makes me proud that we’re respected enough for them to want to help us,” said Heritage High 12th grader Filipi Klein Araujo.

Support Pioneer Theatre

Heritage High students will present their award-winning show at the Historic Academy Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Pay-what-you-can tickets and concession sales will go toward their trip to Alabama for the SETC. Get tickets here.

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