Students from across West Virginia gather in Parkersburg for ThesFest

Photo by Jeff Baughan In the opening scene of the Parkersburg High School performance of “At the Bottom of Lake Missoula” Friday, Pam Roebucker, portrayed by Abby Smith, far left, talks to family members. From left are Smith, Brayden Ray, Phillip Essenmacher and Madie Khoury. Joanie Owen lies on the stage. Approximately 530 students and 120 adult chaperones represented about 30 schools from throughout West Virginia during ThesFest.

PARKERSBURG — Students from throughout the state gathered this week in downtown Parkersburg to put their drama skills to the test.

The 2018 ThesFest, or Thespian Festival, began Thursday with opening ceremonies at the Smoot Theatre in Parkersburg.

Martha Louden, event coordinator, said about 530 students and 120 adult chaperones attended this year’s ThesFest. The students represented about 30 schools from throughout West Virginia.

“This is our state festival and competition for high school theater programs,” she said. Students compete as troupes or solo acts, performing short plays, delivering monologues or singing, or competing in technical areas such as costumes, makeup and lighting.

“If they get a superior rating, they can qualify for the national event this summer in Lincoln, Neb.,” Louden said.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Pam Roebucker, portrayed by Abby Smith, prays as she tries to make sense of her family’s deaths in a tornado during Parkersburg High School’s presentation of scenes from “At the Bottom of Lake Missoula” during the 2018 West Virginia ThesFest at the Parkersburg Actors Guild on Market Street on Friday.

Parkersburg High School theater teacher Lori Zyla said the school had about 25 students in grades 9-12 competing at this year’s event. The students are taking part in performance, technical and playwriting competitions, she said.

“It’s always a really exciting time,” Zyla said. “It’s always nice when we have a huge community coming together like this.”

Barbara Full, president of the Parkersburg Actors Guild, said the annual event usually is held in a town that has a civic center large enough to accommodate all of the students and attendees at once. This year, Parkersburg was allowed to split activities among four locations: The Smoot, The Actors Guild, The Parkersburg Art Center and the Blennerhassett Hotel.

“I’m so glad we’re doing this,” Full said. “It’s nice to see the streets of Parkersburg filled with young people. They’re happy to be here and their enthusiasm is infectious.”

Louden said while the program traditionally has been held on a college campus, students and parents have quickly adapted to downtown Parkersburg.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Jim, portrayed by George Hines, left, listens as Pam Roebucker talks about her past during the Parkersburg High School production of “At the Bottom of Lake Missoula.” The final day of ThesFest begins at 9 a.m. today at the Parkersburg Actors Guild on Market Street before moving to the Smoot Theatre for competition at 1 p.m.

“All the events are relatively close,” she said. “I haven’t heard any complaints about walking. Even when it’s on a college campus, they have to leave campus to go eat, so it’s not that different. And everybody in Parkersburg has been so wonderful to us.”

Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the ThesFest has been a welcome event in downtown Parkersburg.

“It’s been a really great, cooperative effort on behalf of the arts community,” Lewis said.

“We’ve been really appreciative of downtown Parkersburg for being so flexible with us,” Zyla said. “It’s been a great experience and its been nice to have it at home for once.”

Full said the students and visitors have been on their best behavior and have represented their schools and communities well. Full said the Actors Guild is undergoing renovations, so temporary dressing rooms had to be set up in the hallway behind the stage.

“Everyone had to be quiet,” she said. “At one point there were 30 high school students in there tiptoeing around. That just shows how much respect they have for this.”