You may have noticed a huge wave of young people that began swamping downtown Columbus Thursday, particularly in and around the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts and the Springer Opera House.
It’s not a surge of enrollment at Columbus State University’s RiverPark Campus, although give them a year or two. Instead, it’s more than 4,000 high school students gathered for a three-day Georgia Thespian Conference that wraps up Saturday.
This is the 8th year in a row that Columbus has hosted the event, said Paul Hampton, state thespian director, who proclaimed of the city’s venues: “The beautiful theatre spaces and outstanding conference facilities are the ideal places for Georgia’s thespians.
For those who don’t know, thespians are an umbrella term for those who are drawn to the creativity and energy of acting, singing and dancing, along with those interested in being playwrights, designers and technical specialists in the entertainment world.
“The conference will host luminaries from Broadway and some of America’s most renowned theatres,” the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau said in a release. “Theatre-arts professors from stellar universities and conservatories across the country will be on hand to provide educational opportunities for Georgia’s theatre students and to scout for top talent.”
The CVB estimates the conference is drawing about 4,750 altogether, including families, to the city from across the state. That includes more than 75 professionals and educators in the area of theatre, a group that is holding classes for the young participants this week. The event is generating more than 2,600 hotel room night stays, the CVB estimated, with a total economic impact of $1.6 million, which also includes eating in restaurants, shopping in stores and filling up vehicles with fuel.
The Georgia Thespians organization is among the largest state affiliates in the International Thespian Society, with 218 thespian troupes across the state. The CVB said this conference is the second-largest such gathering in the U.S.
Another event contributing to the local economy this week is Saturday’s Mardi Gras Spirit Cheerleading at the Columbus Civic Center. More than 3,200 people are expected to attend, generating 1,100 hotel room night stays and an impact of about $450,000.
Visitation, including conventions and tourism, reached 1.8 million last year in Columbus, yielding a total financial impact of $340 million, according to the CVB.