Multiple Awards Earned at 2014 Iowa Thespian Festival

Thespian Festival group

Waukee Community School District Thespian Festival group.

Students from Waukee High School (WHS) attended the Iowa Thespian Festival for the first time and brought home multiple awards!

The festival was held at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in Cedar Falls on November 14-15. Forty students, freshmen through seniors, from either The Waukee Chapter of the International Thespian Society Troupe #1451 or the drama department, represented the district.

The Iowa Thespian Festival has performances, auditions and workshops for nearly 1000 theatre students from around Iowa. The annual Iowa Thespian Festival is sponsored by the Iowa Educational Theatre Association and has been hosted by the Department of Theatre at various locations on the UNI campus for the past five years. The festival provides students with the opportunity to watch productions, take theatre workshops, audition for college scholarships and compete in events.

Senior Ridg Downs, who plans on majoring in theatre in college, was the sole recipient of the Michael Pietz Leadership Award after a unanimous vote from the state Thespian Board, beating out all of the other students. Ridg had no idea Chelsea Haaland, Prairieview Speech teacher and Thespian Troupe director, along with WHS speech and theatre teacher Jacki Pleggenkuhle, had written a letter of recommendation nominating him for the award.

The Michael Pietz Leadership Award is the most prestigious award that can be received at this festival. The award is named after the former National Director of the Educational Theatre Association and is given to “a tireless student leader who often flies under the radar, but whose contributions to the troupe have been indispensable” ( Michael Pietz himself presented Ridg with the award in front of more than one thousand students.

“Receiving this award was a huge honor and the festival was amazing. With the exception of speech team, there are not a lot of opportunities for theatre kids from different schools to interact with each other.  This festival allowed us to see what other schools were doing. I wish I had another year of high school left just so I could attend the festival again,” Downs said.

Senior Maddie Grissom, who plans to study Theatre Education in college, was one of three in the state to be given the Iowa Thespian Scholarship.

“I was shaking so hard; it felt amazing to win that award! I was so happy! This was a valuable experience because I got so many college scholarship offers and learned so much.”

An Iowa Thespian Scholarship is awarded to three students “after several rounds of auditions, presentations and interviews in front of a panel of Festival representatives. Students must plan to major or minor in theatre when they enter college next fall,” Haaland explained.

Full List of Awards

  • Senior Ridg Downs received the Michael Pietz Leadership Award, the most prestigious award at the festival
  • Senior Maddie Grissom was honored with one of three Iowa Thespian Scholarships
  • Freshman Kaitlyn Harris won first place in the Tech Challenge: Button Sewing event
  • Junior Rachel Rinehart and senior Lily Brown earned first place in the Tech Challenge: Prop Shift
  • Senior Ridg Downs and senior Taylor Michl got second place in Duet Musical Theatre and also qualified for the International Thespian Festival
  • Freshman Libby Storts won first place for costume construction
  • Junior Savanna Burkle qualified for the International Thespian Festival in Monologue Performance
  • Seniors Maddie Grissom, Ridg Downs and Jacob Glass auditioned for college scholarships and have received more than $175,000 in combined scholarship offers from various schools to date


Jacqueline Pleggenkuhle, Maddie Grissom, Chelsea Haaland

Jacqueline Pleggenkuhle, Maddie Grissom, Chelsea Haaland

Taylor Michl, Chelsea Haaland, Ridg Downs

Taylor Michl, Chelsea Haaland, Ridg Downs

560 Southeast University Avenue
Waukee, Iowa 50263
Phone 515.987.5161
Fax 515.987.2701