LPP at Susquehanna Township HS

Last week, 7/29 and 7/30, LPPers at Susquehanna Township High School’s School of Theatre Arts  (Harrisburg, PA) performed The Laramie Project Project as a part of The Laramie Project Project. We are so excited that they joined us in erasing hate and sharing Matthew’s story. Check out photos from their production below!

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Did you know? Susquehanna was our first outside performance of LPP! Additionally, they were our second Pennsylvania group on board.

With love,

LPP team member Kelly

7/19: This Week in the LPP

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LGBTQ+ Global: 
The Church of England has recently strode two pivotal steps forward in the direction of a more accepting faith community for LGBTQ citizens. Two motions proposed by The General Synod have yielded positive results, one of which in favor of abolishing gay conversion therapy (a vote of 298 to 74) , the other in favor of affirming Trans Christians as true members of the church (284 to 78). These two events will undoubtedly create a more accepting environment for LGBTQ parishoners, promoting God’s love in an honest and unbiased fashion, while also setting a noble example for other churches to follow. As the kids say nowadays…England, you’re doing great sweetie.

MSF:
Here’s another beautiful example of #HonoringThemWithAction: Considering Matthew Shepard, and oratorio composed by Craig Hella Johnson and performed by Conspirare singers hailing from Texas.

LPP Local:
Check out two blogs this week about two Jersey LPP readings–past a present. Troupe 7161 at Robbinsville High School carried the LPP banner last winter, infusing The Laramie Project into the classroom.

PFLAG Collingswood along with The Social Responsibility Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill will host a reading this October. We encourage all of our Jersey hearts to attend for an epic LPP reunion.

LPP Blog:
A note about the updates on our Groups on Board page: while the LPP Pulse Memory Project does not have 49 names on the blog, our team is in conversation with about eight groups at the moment. We can assure the last three names on our list will be honored by specific theatre groups within the year.

Due to logistical reasons and event planning, these three singular names are reserved for three of these prospective groups.

Therefore we’ve assigned our first two group dedications to Glencoe High School (OR, honoring the families of the victims) and Camden County Technical School (NJ, honoring the wounded and survivors of the shooting.)

We added some stats to page about the geography of the LPP…it’s remarkable to list all of these state abbreviations. Onward, upward, forward and outward!

LPP Team:
LPP Team Leader Alyssa received this Matthew Shepard Foundation Summer Newsletter and opened it up to find…her sophomore year headshot. Okay, things are getting real now! Don’t let the first face fool you…she’s out of her mind pumped.


As we approach 49, more is still in store for the LPP. Stay tuned.

With love,
LPP Team Leader Alyssa and Team Member Dylan

LPP presented by PFLAG Collingswood and the Social Responsibility Committee of The Unitarian Universalist Church (NJ)

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Note, this post will experience updates within the week!

Our first PFLAG to sign onto our Project, hailing from Collingswood, NJ, is holding an LPP event this fall. PFLAG (acronym used for the historical name Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a national organization that unites LGBTQ+ community members, family, and friends, who offer support and advocacy initiatives for their hometowns. There are currently more than 400 chapters and 200,000 members!

It’s been a pleasure working with PFLAG Collingswood Vice President Jim DeSimone as we’ve signed on this local organization to our mission. Their chapter will be partnering with the Social Responsibility Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, NJ. The event is free and open to the public, held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill on October 15, 2017 from 6-9pm.

This autumn, PFLAG will be honoring Luis Daniel Conde. Luis owned a hair and beauty salon in Kissimmee with his partner Juan Pablo Rivera Velasquez (who also died in the shooting, and was recently honored by Two River Theatre in Red Bank, NJ.) The Alta Peluqueria D’Magazine Salon was locally renowned for the beautifully fun and positive times, as customers sometimes visited just to say hi to Juan and Daniel.

I wish I could attend to PFLAG event, but I will be in Colorado that night, as the Bear To Make A Difference Gala for the Matthew Shepard Foundation is that weekend. I encourage any LPP locals to attend this event and see the LPP in action, as well as supporting two incredible regional groups!

We are so excited to welcome aboard organizations that fight daily for acceptance in local communities! We are also so proud of having a PFLAG of our own state join us, and our second religious organization sign on. It’s so beautiful to see LGBTQ+ advocacy with roots close to home. Collingswood is a town I visit so many times a year, as one of my best friends lives there, and Cherry Hill is not that far from me at all either!

For more information about The PFLAG organization, visit their site at https://www.pflag.org/

PFLAG Collingswood’s own page is at this link: https://www.pflag.org/chapter/pflag-collingswood

And here is their Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/collingswood.pflag/

Much love,
LPP Team Leader Alyssa

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Luis (left) and Juan (right)…both together in Heaven.

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We miss your beautiful heart, Luis!

LPP at Robbinsville High School (Troupe 7161)

During International Thespian Festival, I was able to catch up with troupe members from Robbinsville High School Troupe 7161, fellow New Jerseyans. Robbinsville’s Theatre II and III Classes participated in the LPP, and they were one of the first to sign on to our initiative back before the new year. I hadn’t been able to catch up with the students or their troupe director and teacher, Miss Sussman, until ITF, so I pulled a Tectonic Move and opened up the recording app and conducted a small interview.  I learned about their classroom LPP events in honor of Juan Chavez-Martinez.

 

The students read the play as a class before they embarked on monologue study. I asked them all what their first thoughts on the play were. Student Sarah initially found it very sad, but grew to appreciate the Tectonic Theatre Company Member’s care to include all different kinds of opinions in the text. (That’s one of the characteristics I personally believes makes this play superior. The good, the bad, and the ugly are showcased, which is the most true representation of any American town.) At first, Student Mark was “frustrated and angry” with the intolerance certain characters showed, but then appreciated the challenge of seeing both sides of the spectrum.This is what truly makes the play about acceptance and understanding.

Another student (I failed to grab their name, and will edit in their name once I hear from the troupe who remembers saying this) remarked, referring to the hate crime that took Matthew’s life, “It’s just hard to believe that stuff like this actually happens.” This is a comment I hear when talking to almost everyone about Laramie–the heartbreaking event still shocks and saddens those who read/hear about it. It’s oftentimes boggling to comprehend the hate that it takes to hurt others for their identity, beliefs, and affiliations.

I also asked the students where they were when they first heard about Pulse. Student Kaeleigh remembered that she was in school, right before the start of summer vacation. Another student heard at home. I told them to story about how I was at the Philly Pride Parade that day, and I had heard in bits and pieces on the train ride over. I brought up how sad it was that safe spaces are in question for the community. Miss Sussman added that “there’s no such thing as 100% anymore for anyone,” with increasing violent incidents all over the world. She said an incredible thing afterwards– “So, we can live our lives in fear, or we can choose to embrace love instead of hate…And teach those messages.”

That’s why our team believes in Laramie so much–it takes one of the most beautiful human creations, theatre, and employs it for the spreading of education and hope.

I positively adore the in-class infusion of the LPP–theatre education is near and dear to my heart, so I’m always happen to sign on schools and students to our cause. Some of the best monologues from the modern play catalogue are from Laramie (I’ve been known to whip out Romaine’s Angle Action monologue as needed.)

Juan Chavez Martinez, as mentioned in an online obituary, was originally from Mexico, only 25 years old when he was murdered in the shooting. Even though he was so young, he was a successful and hard-working boss in a department of a Floridian hotel. He had several brothers and sisters.

The LPP Team wishes with all of our hearts Juan’s family and colleagues could find some comfort in knowing he is loved all the way in New Jersey. We’re so grateful the Thespians of Robbinsville honored his memory in the classroom–employing him and Matthew’s stories in the name of love, education, and acceptance.

Thank you to Robbinsville Thespian Troupe Members for speaking with me, and thanks to Team Member Kelly for transcribing the interview!

With love,
LPP TL Alyssa

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Goofy thespians of Robbinsville… @ NJ ThesFest17

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Juan, may you rest in peace! ❤

LPP at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ in honor of Juan P. Rivera Velazquez

June 13th, 2017 marked one year and one day since the tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting. The LPP international team did not let this time of year go unnoticed. May and June were two of the busiest month for international LPP readings. Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ, a gorgeous, regional theatre company with a dedicated educational program, held an incredibly special LPP event that created a beautiful camaraderie between the participants. Their staged reading was in honor of Juan P. Rivera Velazquez.


I was at a show that night with my pop-pop (the regional premiere of Fun Home in Philadelphia, featuring my idol AEA President Kate Shindle), but Honorary LPP Team Member Liam luckily was able to attend. Liam is a GCIT School of Performing Arts 2016 alumni, and a dear friend of mine who I’ve dubbed LPP Media Correspondent. He’s working on a story about the LPP for ha new blog, so I sent him to this event to represent the LPP team. At the event, Liam had the pleasure of meeting the fabulous Kate Cordaro, Director of Education at Two River, who has been passionately planning this LPP event for months.

Here’s what Liam has relayed about the event. Time for me to be a Tectonic Theatre Company member and do some transcription work.

“So when I got there, all the chairs were set up in a circle. There was a box of plays and on each copy, a list of characters that script holder would read for. Kate mixed them all up so kids would be adults, boyts would be girls, etc., so that we go a full circular experience of different people and their character. I ended up reading as well, though I didn’t plan to (I read for four other minor characters and Doc).”

I’m so happy to hear about the truly authentic reading experience the participants at Two River had. It’s my belief that Laramie is supposed to be carried out in a truly communal and ragtag-team kind of way. The voices of Laramie should shine through the performance, and these sentiments should be communicated in such a multitude of ages and perspectives. At the McCarter Theatre reading, an older lady read the part of Doc O’Connor, a rough-and-tough limousine driver–and to be truthful, that night was the best I had heard Doc.

“At intermission we took a break, everything was so heavy. So at the end, a man was reading for Matthew’s dad, and started holding back tears. It was the ‘Matthew wasn’t alone’ part. There was not a dry eye in the spot.
Than at the end of the play, we all sat in silence for a minute.
And tok 3 collective breaths in and out as a group, like we did at the beginning.

And then we sat in silence and this man broke the silence. He started reciting a poem…We all just listened to him. It was so so powerful.
And then we all started breaking away. The group was so varied. Kate said she knew only half of them. It was incredible, a fantastic experience.”

While my heart is so happy with the LPP’s reach across the state, country, and world, I so wish that I could attend every event. My pride for Jersey theatres is shining ever bright, especially with a group as astounding as Two River joining us. I’m continually inspired by the directors of education at our LPP playhouses–thank you for spearheading this effort and bringing LPP to your communities.

Two River celebrated the life of a remarkable man who ran a hair salon with his partner Luis Daniel Conde. (Luis will be honored by Collingswood PFLAG this October.) Alta Peluqueria D’Magazine in Kissimmee was a place for laughs and smiles. Sometimes friends came just to pay a visit to Luis and Juan, not for a hair appointment.

Something I learned about Juan and Luis that struck me the most was reading about how, at their salon, they would offer free services to women who were victims of domestic violence. Alta Salon must have been such a safe haven for so many people.

I mourn the loss of these beautiful souls, and I celebrate the action taken by members of the Red Bank community.

Thank you so much to another loving group of Jersey artists, and thank you to Liam for covering this event.

With love,
LPP Team Leader Alyssa

Note: more pictures will be added to this blog as I acquire them!

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This gorgeous edit…

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Lifelong connections made in circles like these.
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Juan, we miss you and your big heart, but your love lives on!

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Luis and Daniel ❤

 

This weekend in LPP new: Germany legalizes same-sex marriage; Another awesome theatre advocacy project by past Spirit of Matthew Award winner Connor Norton

-Today’s victory for the international LGBT+ community: Germany votes to legalize same sex marriage in a snap vote! What an awesome step in the right direction for our community abroad. Germany, thanks for taking the first step to #erasehate! Read all about it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/30/world/europe/germany-gay-marriage.html?mcubz=0

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-Connor Norton, former Spirit Of Matthew award winner and current theatre activist, recounts his connection to The Laramie Project and explains how he is finding a way to #erasehate by collaborating with those affected by the Pulse tragedy. Connor is actively creating an “archive of accounts and stories” in The Orange Ave Project. Modeled closely after The Tectonic Theatre’s work in Laramie, Wyoming, Connor’s project keeps the legacy of those lost alive. Way to make strides for the LGBT+ community, Connor! The LPP team sends all of our love and support. Check out Connor’s story here: https://medium.com/@MatthewsPlace1/stories-of-lost-49-orangeave-project-builds-historical-archive-to-build-art-that-never-forgets-509d4580e412

-Two blogs will be coming out soon about two Jersey LPP’ing groups: Two River Theater, whose event was held in early June, and Robbinsville High School Thespian Troupe 7161, who held their LPP event earlier in the year. LPP Team Leader Alyssa was finally able to catch up with them about the wonderful things they did to bring Laramie into the classroom.

Happy last day of Pride Month! I believe we can say with confidence that come tomorrow, the celebration, love, and work won’t stop.

With love,
LPP Team Member Kelly

Note from LPP TL Alyssa: I’m in the process of lots of archival work for LPP. Kelly helped me out with gathering photos from all our groups. My first mission: gather one photo from every group. I’m also gathering posters to. If a photo of your groups is need, we’ve sent out an email. ❤

Thespian Identity Blazing Rainbow: LPP at International Thespian Festival

How many 17-year-old girls in the world can seriously say that their dream summer getaway is in the cornfields of Nebraska?

I’m a living testament to the fact that I am not the only teen in the world with this affinity for escapades to the smack-dab-middle of America. It’s been my dream to attend the International Thespian Festival, annually held at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln)–a wonderland for young theatre lovers-for-life.

Nationally-eligible individual events (categorized into solos, duets, group numbers, monologues, etc.) contend for a chance to perform in the National Showcase, a hand-picked selection of the stand-out pieces that come to ITF. Musicals and plays of all kinds, full length and one act, also send troupes to Nebraska if they qualify as the best in their state competitions. The event that flew me to Nebraska for the first time is a one act called The Cagebirds–something my birdgirls and I have rehearsed/performed in so many locales that we call it “on tour.” This morbid, absurdist piece by Dave Campton was one of the most gratifying challenges my cast has ever faced!

The honor of being an inducted Thespian, part of theatre history and the expansive catalogue of drama students, is truthfully my favorite high school accomplishment. I felt this identity in all its blazing glory the week of June 19th. I’ve always known ITS links middle and high schoolers from state to state to country to country–but I hadn’t understood this momentous fact. It did not become real until I walked through the UNL campus and saw Thespians in their own high school musical show shirts from towns I’ve never heard of. This just in: drama kids exist! In, like, California! And Arkansas! And Texas. A LOT exist in Texas.

Coming off of an international theatre advocacy project makes a person more sensitive to the enormity of organizations and those chapters within them. My friends and I were one of 300 troupes at the Festival this year. There were thousands of thespians in attendance. But on an international level, including those students who did not attend, there’s more where that comes from. This here is a stat including alumni, but nevertheless–the 2 millionth Thespian was inducted in 2009.

Basically, we’re a small army of stagefiends. We come from every corner of every county, we’ve all performed 12 Angry Jurors at least once, we’ve all had more than one brutal final Saturday Tech, we’ve all memorized the Witch’s rap. We all have different opinions on the true winner of Best Orchestrations at this year’s Tony’s but we all call Jenn Colella our mother. Some things are just inherent to the Thespian name.

While the LPP instincts I have grown immediately set off flashing red lights in my head while in mutual-human-presence (“Are they on board? What’s their email? What’s their email!?!?”), I also found a more internal question bursting at my sunburnt seams, waiting in line for any event alongside another Thespian. Do they love Great Comet too? Are they as upset about Indecent closing? Are they as joyous about Indecent extending?!?! And they were all of these things and more. It took me singing one line of Comet’s Prologue to have another voice shamelessly hop on along the melody. To be with your fellow fervent people is life-and-path-affirming.

And there is nothing like the Thespian audience of the Lied Center, celebrating the mainstage musicals together. You won’t get crowds like that even on Broadway. It’s the purest concentration of people watching something that they not only love but know. It’s the kind of audience every high school production deserves.

With 8/9 LPP Team Members on this trip, I had my partners on hawk-eye and dog-ear duty, ready to pounce on any Thespian or Troupe director who remotely mentioned Laramie, and pass along registration information. (And it worked.) Out of our 16 LPP Thespian Troupes, there were three LPP in attendance this year–all NJ schools!–and I was lucky enough to meet up with two of the three. These two troupes are ones I had connected with already at States, so it was great to catch up. Hoboken High School’s Troupe (7268) is super special to me; we watched them perform Laramie at NJ ThesFest. They were the first signs of LPP-to-life we witnessed. I caught Robbinsville High School’s Troupe (7161) on a whim the last day of the festival. I sadly wasn’t able to cop a selfie, but I was able to speak with them about their own LPP event! I’m going to post a blog about them soon. Unfortunately, I could not find Passaic County Technical Institute’s Troupe (7894), but I’m sure I’ll catch them at States next year.

The most life-changing moments of ITF consisted of meeting with leaders of the organizations that are my inspiration. The women I look up to are trailblazers for their beloved causes. I was able to meet a champion of theatre in our schools, Ms. Julie Cohen Theobald, Executive Director of the Educational Theatre Association. She was so happy to hear the LPP story and took the best-selfie-ever with me. I was also lucky to catch Mr. Doug Berlon, another leader on the EdTA team, on the way back from dinner off-campus with my troupe on Friday night. I ID’d myself as “The LPP girl” and he immediately celebrated our recent successes and wide reach. Doug was an LPP lover since Day 1, and he helped spread the word to Thespian Troupes on a national level back in the 2016 leg of the operation.

I also reconnected with Michael DiBianco, the Education and Outreach representative for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDs and a long-time LPP supporter. He is part of the organization of theatre superheroes who understand the notion that the arts aren’t special until they change lives. Samuel French representatives Ms. Courtney Kochuba and Ms. Abbie Van Nostrand were also pleasures to meet, as they shared my passion for the play-world and readily gave all the advice they had at their disposal to this young theatre creator. I performed most of my Indecent-related-squealing with representatives of the National Theatre Institute (what a wild ride of a week for me and Ms. Violet Saylor, mourning on Wednesday and jumping for joy on Thursday). I was able to speak with Harper Lee as well, editor and correspondent for Dramatics Magazine. (My internal Theatre Journalist was geeking out!)

Perhaps the most special meeting I had was with Mr. Zach Schneider, chapter director of Wyoming State Thespians, who has a special connection with Matthew. It’s more than beautiful that Matthew’s legacy has a cornerstone in the theatre world. As I learned in the amazing documentary Matthew Shepard Is A Friend Of Mine created by Michele Josue, Matthew was a theatre lover all throughout his schooling. He felt the same sense of family that we all feel in our drama clubs. I hope we can say his name in every theatre in the world, because that was one of his homes.

Hearing the remarkable news about the Spirit of Matthew Award in the middle of Nebraska felt like the proper location. I’ve always been surrounded by Thespians, thanks to the beauty of the internet and email. I’ve always been aware of the international reach of the EdTA and ITS. But last week, I was surrounded by Thespians, this time in person. I could hear them sing and I laughed with them. Seeing a new school name filled me with such pride time and time again, and this is why. The first phase of LPP involved hours of online research into school websites and discovering what districts had the arts and which districts didn’t. There would be hours in which I hadn’t found a drama program present on a single website for an entire region of a state. I’m so far removed from these institutions, but even so, I found myself getting upset. I had just gotten home from rehearsals, multi-tasking my research with Drama III homework. I knew the kids from XYC county didn’t have a rehearsal to get home from.

Then, during the 11 o’clock number of whatever musical was my soundtrack for that county, I would stumble upon a page for the annual musical, a drama class, and sometimes, when I struck gold, a Thespian Society and a Drama four-year academy program. (And once in a rainbow moon, all of these groups as well as a GSA.)

For 6 days straight in the middle of Pride Month, I was stuck on a campus in the middle of the country, the inhabitants of which were solely comprised of students and teachers from places of education that say, every year: Yes, theatre should be kept in schools. It will be kept in ours.

All of these schools are guardians of the arts. I got to live theatre with thousands of kids who I don’t know the names of but I know love to give standing ovations five times before the finale.

With the LPP, I see the American states in a whole new light. I don’t see west or east. I don’t see red or blue. I don’t see their shapes. I see their Thespians, and they are chronically excited about everything.

The greatest thing I could accomplish this week was to run out of LPP pins. As I hop on the pins website to make a reorder, I want to personally thank you. The person reading this. You are the reason LPP has an international reach. Email can only reach so far. It takes people’s words. It takes us standing on stage and saying, signing, singing, dancing about it. It takes us acting it out to make it real.

With love,
LPP Team Leader Alyssa
Proud Officer of GCIT Troupe 5480

P.S. I would say thank you from the bottom of my heart, but I think it has already burst. Your support for me and my troupe is sending me to Colorado this October so that I may shout from the Rocky Mountains “theatre is advocacy and advocacy is theatre!” MORE than thank you for how you’ve carried me and my team through this incredible journey of the Spirit of Matthew Award. My only wish is that Matthew knows in Heaven that the stage is ready for him.

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Freshman Lyssi…you’re here! You made it to Nebr!!!!

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Where it’s AT!!

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My birdies in all our scary glory.

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That’s not even all the ribbons I got.

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LPP doesn’t have a group from Nebraska yet, but we certainly touched down.

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One of the greatest moments of ThesFest17 was seeing this go up in the cafeteria…I may have gotten a hold of the sharpie…

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The minute I saw this, I got terribly excited, my heart started racing, all normal playwright things. No, I didn’t buy an extra copy of Laramie. And no, I didn’t buy a copy of Water by the Spoonful. I bought 2 copies.

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The Happy People of Hoboken Troupe 7268, LPP family ❤

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Yeah…I brought her with me.

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They say if you touch the Wooly Mammoth’s foot, you get good luck. I brought Matt with me.

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Me and Ms. Julie C!!

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At the Awesome BCEFA booth…went sort of hog wild…

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I love four numbers and those are 5, 4, 8, and 0!!!!!!

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Hopewell Valley HS, Ocean County Votech, and GCIT! Three NJ Thespian Troupes!