Dennison makes school history in statewide theater event


Senior Allison Dennison practices the tenor saxophone at an orchestra rehearsal at Downers Grove South High School Oct. 9 2022.

Francesca Messerschmidt, Staff Writer

Senior Allison Dennison and drama teacher Hannah Drake are making history with their involvement in the Illinois Theatre Association’s Illinois High School Theatre Festival (IHSTF).

According to the website, “…There had been theater leaders in the state who felt there was a need for an alternative to a statewide student theatrical event of a competitive nature…They developed a regional, localized theater festival for their high school students and, because of their success, provided the spark for the creation of the state-wide Illinois High School Theatre Festival.” 

They also state that one fourth of high schools in the state participate in the festival.

Dennison will play the tenor and baritone saxophone in the All-State show, a show in which students from across the state audition to participate. This year’s show is “Shrek the Musical”. Drake is the musical director for the show. Both are the first in each category from Harrisburg. 

“Students from across the state come and audition to be a part of all areas of it,” Drake said. “You would have had to audition for the pit orchestra and the technical crew as well. This year over a hundred students are involved in it. We have a cast in the sixties. I think the crew is around forty.”

Dennison’s audition was different from any audition she’s ever done for a typical Harrisburg show.

“It was really laid back,” Dennison said. “She had me play both my songs and then we just kind of did an interview afterwards.”

While Harrisburg shows have a very high standard to meet, the All-State show has even higher standards that must be met. 

“The thing no one can really prepare you for until you get into it is the pacing,” Drake said. “The number of rehearsals we’ve had is maybe twelve when it’s all said and done.”

Dennison agrees with Drake on the fast-paced nature of preparing for the show.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Dennison said. “We had just got the music that day so it was all sight-reading. It was a challenge but a good challenge to have.”

This year will not be Harrisburg’s first time participating at Theatrefest. In 2019, the drama department took “Hunchback of Notre Dame” among other shows. Former students have also participated in the cast of the All-State show, as well.

“Maggie Hart was in two All-State shows,” Drake said. “One of them was West Side Story.”

Ravyn Gauch (2021) and Kirsten Eversmann (2022) have also been in the All-State shows, “Aida” and “Cabaret” respectively.

Former theater teacher CJ Harbison also took shows to perform at Theatrefest. In 2000, Harrisburg took a play called “Bang Bang, You’re Dead”.

“To be able to perform “Bang Bang, You’re Dead” was really exciting,” Harrisburg alum Lindsey Nave (2000) said. “We were not one of the usual schools to be performing at this festival and it was a proud moment for us.” 

Southern schools are not always the most represented in the All-State show. 

“This is the largest group from southern Illinois they’ve ever had participate,” Drake said. “With Allison, we have five students in it.”

If Drake were given the chance, she already knows what show she would pick to direct for All-State.

“I feel like “The Prom” is so relevant to our students today,” Drake said. “To look down and do that on the stage would be a wonderful thing.”

Overall, Drake and Dennison are ready and excited for the show.

“What I’m most excited for is for everyone to see it,” Drake said. “I think this big, over the top show that everyone already kind of knows will be exciting for sure.”