Layan Elwazani had one of those storybook turns at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln,
Nebraska, earlier this summer.
She, along with fellow Bowling Green High School thespian Monica Gonzalez, were attending the conference
as part of the cast All-Ohio show "All Shook Up."
Elwazani had a small chorus role, but her main role was as a swing who had to be ready to step into any
of the female roles if someone fell ill. "I was responsible for knowing all the lines, blocking,
music and choreography."
And on the day of the show, she learned that indeed one of the principles, the actress playing Mayor
Mathilda, was ill and she would have to go on in her stead. She did so in front of thousands of festival
Even before that, the week at the conference was memorable. She packed in workshops on improvisation,
writing 10-minute plays, operating machinery used to make actors "fly" on stage and how to
belt out a tune in true Broadway fashion. Even eating dinner was educational. "It was amazing
living with people who were there who love theater as much as you do," she said.
In all 2,600 teachers, students chaperones and presenters participated.
Gonzalez, who graduated from BGHS in spring and will attend Bowling Green State University in fall, also
found the experience rewarding.
In a recent e-mail she wrote: "Sometimes I feel like we, as high school students, get pigeon-holed
into thinking that our school is the bomb. Internationals is not only a great place to learn about all
aspects of theatre, but it is also a very humbling experience."
No more so then when the cast walked out onto the stage of the Lied Center on the Nebraska campus for the
first time. "I would have never expected to stand on a stage that big, let alone perform on
one," the young actress said. "It made all of us in the cast and crew insanely nervous, which
brought us closer as an ensemble."
The quality of the shows, said Jo Beth Gonzalez, the high school drama teacher, was "consistently
They proved "that high school students are fully capable of creating art."
As a guest artist she shared what she and students in Bowling Green were doing. In talking about the use
of a Greek chorus she drew on the high school production of "Antigone" and she discussed the
creation of the show "Swamped," which marked the city’s 175th anniversary.
Other teachers, Jo Beth Gonzalez, who is Monica’s mother, bring dozens of a students, some as many as 50.
She would like to share the experience with far more of her students, something both actresses who
attended this year endorse.
But the festival cost $500 for each student, not including transportation to Nebraska. It would be a
great undertaking even in good times, but given the school district’s financial restraints – Gonzalez’
stipend has been cut and field trips and "as we speak no field trips are allowed" – it became
an even more daunting endeavor.
Local service groups did help Monica Gonzalez and Elwazani attend this year, and could be asked again.
And the drama club has certain regular fundraisers, such as cleaning hotel rooms at Cedar Point.
But the teacher would like to see them raise money by doing what they do best entertaining.
Elwazani came back more prepared to just that. One of the workshops she participated in was "How to
Raise Money for Your Troupe."