Special to the Journal

Eight Belton ISD theatre students qualified for nationals after performing at the Texas Thespian Festival in Grapevine last month.
To advance, the students had to perform or showcase their technical skills in front of three judges and receive a superior score from all three. National qualifiers are invited to compete at the International Thespian Festival to be held June 19-23, 2023, at Indiana University Bloomington.
“This is such exciting news for these students and their directors,” Keith Zuehlke, director of Fine Arts in Belton ISD, said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their success. Theatre education fosters so many positive effects on the academic, social and emotional lives of our students. I’m grateful that this district and our community support us in offering such a strong theatre program.”
National qualifiers from Belton High School are Anaise Lopez-Rodriguez (monologue); Addison “JoJo” Fogle and Courtney Kidd (solo musical); and Brennan Winn (costume design).
“Belton has some incredible students who are passionate about their arts and push to be the very best,” Melissa Stuhff, BHS’ theatre director, said “They are hard workers and we directors are lucky to get to coach them beyond ‘good’ and help them find ‘great.’”
Marie Phillips serves as the technical director at BHS.
National qualifiers from Lake Belton High School are Liam McCullagh (marketing); Dakota Branch (solo musical); and Baylee Janicke and Jonas Dotson (duet acting).
Denise Larsen is LBHS’ theatre director and Ty Carter is the technical director.
“We are so proud of our theatre students who have demonstrated tremendous growth since our program started just two and a half years ago,” Larsen said. “Seven of them also interviewed with a representative from college theatre programs during the festival. I’m looking forward to seeing where theatre might take them in the future. The sky’s the limit.”
Also, as part of the festival, students attended theatre events and workshops to expand their knowledge and skills.
Other recognitions and achievements from the Texas Thespian Festival include:
• LBHS senior Kyle Trehern served as a member of the Texas Honor Crew and helped with lighting, sound and audio/visual support for the festival.
• LBHS students Nola Ferrell, Karroline Bullock, Sophia Campos and Liam McCullagh placed second in the Hair and Makeup Design Challenge.
• LBHS senior Hayden Presley earned a trophy for directing the All Star Troupe entry.
• The LBHS Troupe won the All Star Troupe Display, a tabletop display showcasing the group’s activities. Participating members were Samy De La Rosa, Jonas Dotson, Rebekah McGuire, Kyle Trehern, Ashley Holley and Baylee Janicek.
• The Laughing Point Improv Troupe, composed of LBHS students, advanced to the second level of the Improv Challenge.
• Zeke Payne, a member of the BHS Theatre program and a Belton New Tech @Waskow senior, is serving as one of 18 State Thespian Officers. The officers led leadership workshops statewide and planned this year’s Texas Thespian Festivals in Grapevine and San Antonio.
• Belton High School sophomore Anaise Lopez-Rodriguez is one of 10 Texas students selected for the Texas Thespian Advocacy Network Student Ambassador program. As a member, Lopez-Rodriguez will advocate for theatre education with lawmakers in Austin and Washington, D.C.

Courtesy Photo
Belton High School sophomore Anaise Lopez-Rodriguez, left, qualified to compete with her monologue at the International Thespian Festival in June. Zeke Payne, a member of the BHS Theatre program and a Belton New Tech @Waskow senior, is serving as one of 18 State Thespian Officers for the Texas Thespians.