Take a spin around the workshops at the Multilingual Theater Festival, and you’d think you were watching rehearsals at a Broadway studio.
One room holds students who are expertly applying aging makeup that makes them appear to be senior citizens. The scene is doubly hilarious when the students step out of character and begin speaking to each other in their normal teenage voices, despite their 70-year-old appearance.
Another room is barely containing the laughter that results from students learning to create and act out their own cartoon character with a voice professional. Still another finds student stage technicians practicing the lighting and sound effects that they will use later in the formal performances at the end of the week. A peek into another room finds a professional storyteller enlightening students on the highs and lows of becoming a career artist.
The festival is, in a word, spectacular. Organized and hosted by Dallas International School with this year’s version taking place at the Dallas Children’s Theater, the goal of the Multilingual Theater Festival is to bring together theater students and teachers from different Mission laïque française schools across the country for collaboration, education and friendship. This year’s participants were AWTY International School, Ecole Internationale de New York, Lycée International de Los Angeles, the French-American International School of San Francisco, the Russian School of Dallas and Dallas International School.
Teoman Haessler, an 8th grader from Ecole Internationale de New York, has been coming to the festival for the past three years.
“I have learned so much here, especially this year,” Haessler said. “I have learned some acting techniques, like changing voice and stage combat and how to position your body and whatnot. And this year I learned stage lighting and makeup. It’s awesome.”
Haessler is serious about his craft. He has been acting since he was a young child, and he’s thinking about getting an agent soon to hopefully land bigger roles. He even has a resume written.
“I’ve been working in an acting school the past few years,” he said. “I’ve learned how to method act. I really want to be a young actor and play in series and movies and act in the theater.”
The young actor said that the festival has helped him immensely in his development as a performer. He specifically enjoys performing with and in front of other students.
“Presenting in front of only students is special,” Haessler said. “It makes you more relaxed. It’s helped me learned what to do and what not to do while on stage. You have to play the crowd the right way.”
Haessler also emphasized that being able to perform in multiple languages was important to him. He had never performed in French outside of the festival. The shows put on by each school are in French, with English and even Russian mixed in.
“I feel like I need to act in both languages,” Haessler said. “There are different pronunciations and everything. The French have had plays since the beginning of time it feels like, so it’s important. There are so many more aspects to theater when you have it in both languages.”
Florence Quesnel, a Dallas International School parent whose son, Benjamin, participated in the festival for the first time, said that he had a great experience.
“This festival is a wonderful opportunity for our kids to meet other kids, to meet other actors, to participate in workshops and to share a passion with others,” Quesnel said. “The organization was perfect. It was a great time and my son and I were very happy that he could be there. He will definitely participate next year.”
Lorraine Gachelin, director of communications and community development at Dallas International School, has been organizing the festival for the past 11 years. She said that it’s impressive to see how the students progress in their abilities in a mere four days.
“At the beginning, a lot of them were really nervous about getting up on stage,” she said. “But once they had learned and practiced, it was like all the fears vanished. They were able to enter into their characters, and a confidence appeared, which was felt by the audience.”
Gachelin said she loves seeing the students grow artistically each year as a result of the festival. Some students and teachers love it so much that they continue to come back annually.
“My big goal with the festival is that the students are encouraged to follow their passion,” Gachelin said. “Being in theater, they learn skills that will serve them in all areas of their life. They learn teamwork, they learn public speaking, they learn to not take themselves too seriously and they are open to learning new techniques. It’s a way for them to step outside the box and it makes them richer individuals.”
Haessler agrees. He’s already making plans to come back in 2019 for a fourth straight year at the festival.
“You want to see new faces and new personalities,” he said. “People come from all around the world and with different backgrounds. You can learn from them and become a better actor. I just love it.”