Eastside High School students James Donnelly (left), Carly Rubin, Camille Eyman and Graham Louis (right) will be performing and competing as the district representative for district 12.

The crowd hushes, the house lights dim, thousands of students settle into the red velvet seats of Carol Morsani Hall to watch their peers bring creations to life. As the lights come up, four students walk onstage and announce, “We proudly represent troupe…” and perform. This is how the Florida State Thespian Competition begins each year.  

Eastside High School students Carly Rubin, Camille Eyman, Graham Louis and James Donnelly will perform at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa after being selected as the district representative for performance at the District 12 Thespian Competition.   

The Florida State Thespian Festival is a convention where high school students from across the state come together to compete with various performance and technical pieces from published plays and musicals, as well as pantomime. Students also have the opportunity to participate in workshops and to learn from some of the most prominent theater artists in the business.  

“A huge part of State is competing, but another big part is that you can take workshops and learn from each other’s work,” Camille Eyman, a 17-year-old senior, said. “It’s a cool environment to be in with people who love this as much as you do.”  

James Donnelly, a 16-year-old junior, loves this festival because of the amount of kids who come together every year to share their craft.

“The coolest thing about State to me is that there were about 8,500 kids last year,” Donnelly said. “When you do theater, you’re maybe one of a hundred in your city. When you go to State, it's incredible to see that many passionate people.”    

Graham Louis, a 16-year-old sophomore, said many theater students in local high schools are considered to be nerds, but at the state competition, they fit right in.

The students have been training in theater performance since they were very young. Both Rubin and Eyman want to continue their training in musical theater at the collegiate level.  

These students have worked incredibly hard to bring to life “Requiem” from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Along with being selected as the representative, they also received the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Small Group Musical.    

According to the students, “Requiem” is a piece that revolves around how people deal with losing a loved one. James portrays a boy named Connor who, at the beginning of the show, commits suicide. This piece portrays how his father (Louis), mother (Eyman) and sister (Rubin) all deal with grief in varying ways.

A unique aspect of the piece is that James is present the entire time, playing the guitar as the other actors perform.