The mission of In-School Players (ISP) is simple: give elementary-aged children access to live theater. The troupe, which consists of nine Missouri State students, performs a Saturday Night Live-type variety show at schools around the city. They base skits on the annual public affairs theme, and adaptations of fairy tales and other well-known stories. ISP members write the show during the fall and perform it in the spring.
Michael Frizell ,96′ and 01′, took over as director in 2008 when the creator of ISP Sharon Ellis retired.
“Sharon created the troupe in 1984 when she saw a need for area schools-especially those with a number of students on reduced or free meals- to experience theatre.” Said Frizell.
He had previously acted as the road manager, driving the troupe to area schools and filling in as a performer whenever an actor fell ill, and now he has refined Ellis’ vision a bit.
“New to the ISP troupe is our work with the Admissions Office. The Admissions Office hosts students too young for enrollment but wanting tours (usually middle school aged kids). The ISP troupe spent a semester developing a script for this audience. We wanted to address and dispel myths and fears about attending a university. It was a success, and I hope we can continue it!”
Troupe member Nora Hennessy, a senior musical theatre major, relishes the opportunity.
“It is such a joy to be able to bring theater to these kids. There are some who have never been exposed to live theater or even to performance! We had a child with special needs come up to us after a performance who wanted to thank us because ours was the first assembly he’d ever been able to sit all the way through. Nothing compares to that,” Hennessy said.
ISP doesn’t just impact the children watching, but also the troupe members themselves.
Cecilia (Dorhauer) Tripp,’14, says creating scripts from children’s stories and performing at elementary schools was some of the most fun and challenging experiences she had throughout her college years.
“You had to learn to adapt to each new situation and somehow make the show feel genuine and special for the kids whether they wanted it or not. Much like post-graduate life nothing seems to go as planned and I have to learn to adapt to the different situations around me.”
Tripp says that even after graduating, ISP taught her to adapt to whatever challenges life throws her way.
“Much like post-graduate life, nothing seems to go as planned and I have to learn to adapt to the different situations around me.”
The program also left its mark on ISP alumnus Kendrick Hook, who says that ISP will always be one of the highlights of his college experience. He says each performance reminded him why he loves to share the world of theatre with people.
“I’m grateful for having a professor/director like Mike Frizzell who gave me an opportunity to showcase my talent and helped me feel like I belonged during a time where there was a lot of mixed emotions, worries, and tension on campus between different groups of people. The people who I had performed alongside and the young people who we performed to every week will always have a special place in my heart.”
Hook hopes to one day follow in the steps of Ellis and Frizzell.
“While l am currently still in the process of searching for Speech/Theatre in the St. Louis area, I hope to begin implementing a high school Theatre for Young Audiences troupe similar to Missouri State’s In-School Players.”
Want ISP to perform at your school?
ISP also performed two admissions events for middle school students in spring of 2017. The players wrote a second script for the students with skits designed to encourage them to attend a university, specifically Missouri State. They tackled common college anxieties like taking out loans, meeting professors and finding classrooms.
Frizell says performers must audition each year and that the show provides valuable stage experience.
“The best way to learn is to be on stage – there is no more forgiving audience than these kids.”
Hennesy echoes the sentiment.
“I love working with kids because they have so much compassion and they are willing to go along with you for the ride,” she said.
ISP is funded by the department of theatre and dance. You can contact Michael Frizell about having a performance at your school.