East Ridge High School student Maggie Eckberg attended the Minnesota State Thespian Conference with the hopes of receiving some helpful critiques and participating in some interesting workshops.

But what Eckberg got was so much more.

The freshman was chosen to perform on the Guthrie Stage as part of the National Individual Events Showcase (NIES).

“Words couldn’t describe what it was like,” she said. “It’s any theater kid’s dream to perform on a big stage like that.”

Eckberg also received an invitation to compete in the International Thespian Festival NIES competition this June in Lincoln, Neb.

“I get to see even more super-talented people from all over the world,” she said.

Eckberg wasn’t the only East Ridge student to be invited to the International Thespian Festival. Seniors Naomi Ridley and Katherine Spicuzza, along with sophomore Christina Ippolitti all received “Accomplished” ratings in the solo musical category, thus qualifying them for the international contest. Junior Garrett Hildebrandt was also given an "Accomplished" in the monologue category, thus earning him a spot at the International Thespian Festival. 

Performing and qualifying for the international NIES competition wasn’t enough for Eckberg, though. She also earned a second callback, during the Minnesota Thespian Festival, to perform in the Minnesota Thespians All-State production of “Spring Awakening.”

Thespians come together

During the Minnesota Thespian Festival, held Feb. 16-17 at both Chanhassen High School and the Guthrie Theater, Eckberg and several other East Ridge students participated in a variety of theater workshops, college auditions and scholarship interviews.

The workshops included such topics as technical, directing, acting, makeup, dance, speaking with accents and even a Broadway-style exercise workout.

The NIES competition – which is split up into solo musical, duet musical, group musical, monologue, solo acting, duet acting and group acting – is optional for students to participate in.

For the competition, Eckberg performed “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” from “Grease.”

“I love that musical,” she said. “I’m a belter, so that’s a big belting kind of jazzy song. I literally soul search for at least two months trying to find a good song and it ended up really working out.”

Eckberg said she wanted to compete in NIES because it would provide her with valuable feedback.

“Even if I didn’t do well in it, it would still be a good experience because I can see really talented people perform and see what they have that I could work on,” she said. “I’m mostly just competing for the thrill of competing.”

Following her performance during NIES, Eckberg said she received encouraging words from the judges.

“They really liked how I portrayed the emotion in it,” she said, “and they thought that my high notes were really fantastic.”

Eckberg was only one of six students chosen to perform on the Guthrie Stage during the conference.

“When I got up there, it was really amazing to see all these people and know that I earned this,” she said. “It left me speechless.”

Another optional competition was the Tech Challenge, in which technicians from East Ridge’s Loft Stage took third place and East Ridge senior Henry Anderson, juniors Kira Bauman and Alyssa Thorne, and freshman Quintin Walker all won individual prizes.

All-State performance

Another component of the Minnesota Thespian Festival was callbacks for the 2014 Minnesota Thespians All-State show, which is the annual production open to all Minnesota High School theatre students.

The show allows students to come together from multiple schools to collaborate and create a great theatrical experience, according to the Minnesota Thespians website.

The 2015 production is the Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening,” which is set in late 19th century Germany and depicts a dozen teenagers making their way through the complicated time of sexual awakening.

Eckberg, who participated in the callbacks at the Minnesota Thespian Festival, received a second callback for March 23.

Eckberg has only been participating in musical theater for a year or so.

“I’ve been singing forever, but I just got into theater a year ago and actually became committed to it,” she said. “I love the sense of community that you have when you put on a show and it’s so invigorating when you’re on that stage. It’s a feeling unlike anything else in the world.”

The All-State theater performance of “Spring Awakening” will take place in February 2015 at Chanhassen High School.

Going internationally In addition to NIES, the International Thespian Festival, which takes place this June, will also feature high school theater performances, workshops and classes, a student leadership program, auditions for college admission and thespian scholarships and music and theater writing programs.

Eckberg said she is most excited to hear from guest speakers and learn more about theater.

With regard to NIES, Eckberg said she is excited to compete.

“I’ll probably look at my song again and work on the emotional depth of the song in order to make it the best work I can possibly have,” she said.

Eckberg said her long-term goal with theater is to continue with it and hopefully one day pursue it professionally.

“That would be my dream, but I know not everyone can make it,” she said. “For now, I’m just looking forward to being (at the International Thespian Festival).”