Urbana HS play

Urbana High School students will take their production of 'The Theory of Relativity' to the International Thespian Festival in June 2020 in Cincinnati.

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URBANA — Urbana High School theater director Tim Broeker knew he was taking a chance when he selected a relatively new play, “The Theory of Relativity,” for his department last fall.

“When you do something like that,” he said, “you’re taking a risk — a risk that students are going to look at it and be like, ‘This is weird. Why would I even want to audition for this?’ And then, ‘Is the audience going to want to go to the show?’ because it’s not something they know.”

Talented students, as it turned out, didn’t hesitate to join. And when members of the audience walked out singing the show’s songs, he knew it was a good sign.

“It was kind of stuck in their heads,” he said. “People came and saw the show multiple times. Word spread quickly about how good it was. People were crying, people were laughing. It ran the gamut of emotions. There were a lot of conversations about that.”

Locally based audience members weren’t the only ones paying attention.

Judges from the International Thespian Festival were also in the audience. And two weeks ago, the cast and crew found out they’d been selected as one of seven schools nationally to perform on the main stage at the festival in Cincinnati this June.

“It’s funny because they really wanted it to happen, but I don’t know if they actually expected it to happen,” Broeker said. “The response has been pretty massive. They’ve been really, really excited. We’ve kind of jumped on talking through how we’re going to make it happen.”

Broeker has attended the festival twice, once as a producer for the All-State show, and once as a chaperone for students who went but didn’t perform on the main stage.

At the five-day festival, the students will attend sessions with theater professionals, including Broadway performers. Many of the top theater programs will have representatives there to scout prospective students. In addition to the main stage shows, schools will perform shows in other “found” spaces, Broeker said.

“You’re engaging in educational theater throughout the whole week,” Broeker said. “I’ve got kids who are auditioning for programs in performance, but I also have students who are interviewing and applying to schools to be stage managers and work in the technical side of things as well.”

In 2016, Champaign Central was selected to perform “Chicago” at the festival, which Broeker said was his basis for knowing the value of attending and how to apply.

Broeker said it’ll cost in the range of $25,000 to $30,000, or around $1,000 per student, to send the cast and crew along with the materials needed to put on the play. Anyone interested in contributing, he said, should contact him.

“We’ve got about three or four months before we have to pay the registration fees and whatnot, so we’re putting together ways that we can fundraise,” he said. “We’re pretty anxious to get going on that and make it happen.”