The International Thespian Society (ITS) is an honorary organization for middle school and high school theatre students. It is located at more than 3,900 affiliated secondary schools across the United States, Canada, and abroad.
The mission of ITS is to recognize the achievement of students in the theatre arts. High school inductees are called “Thespians” while junior high/middle school inductees are called “Junior Thespians.” ITS is a branch of EdTA (the Educational Theatre Association). Since 1929, EdTA has appointed more than two million Thespians into ITS. That number keeps growing with more than 36,000 students around the country being appointed each year.
By having a Thespian troupe at your school, you can raise the profile and reputation of your theatre program. Furthermore, you can make both your school and community understand the activities and achievement of your students. A Thespian troupe is led by a troupe director – normally the school’s theatre teacher. Students have to earn an invitation to be introduced into the Thespian Society.
Thespian troupes involve students in grades 9-12 while Junior Thespian troupes involve students in grades 6-8. A few of Thespian alumni are celebrities in the entertainment industry, including Tom Hanks, James Marsters, Val Kilmer, Stephen Schwartz, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. However, most alumni can be in any industry and are good at using skills they learned as Thespians.
The International Thespian Society was initiated in 1929 in Fairmont, West Virginia by Dr. Paul Opp, Earnest Bavely, and Harry Leaper. Its original name was National Thespians (Non-secret, Non-social). The organization contains troupes that linked to a school. The first troupe was founded by Dr Earl Blank at Natrona County High School, (Casper, Wyoming).
In October, 1929, the official organ of National Thespians – the first issue of The High School Thespian – was published. During the year 1935, The National Thespian headquarters was moved to Cincinnati. Also in that year, the society was renamed The National Thespian Dramatic Honor Society.
In October 1945, the organization was again renamed the National Thespian Society. In October 1969, its name has been changed to the International Thespian Society to emphasize its expanding geographical reach. In June, 1982, the annual event changed its name to the Thespian Festival, and for the first time it officially became an annual schedule. In 1990, the society launched Junior Thespians to extend its reach to middle schools. At the present, there are approximately 100,000 active members joining ITS along with 4,600 professional members.