Thespians landing in downtown Columbus this week, pumping $1.2 million into economy

Watch Columbus High actors get in the zone for their performance of The Rose of Treason

Columbus High drama students opened the final day of the annual Georgia Thespians Conference on the Riverside Theater stage. Before the show they loosen up, cheer and bring each other into focus
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Columbus High drama students opened the final day of the annual Georgia Thespians Conference on the Riverside Theater stage. Before the show they loosen up, cheer and bring each other into focus

Anyone venturing to downtown Columbus over the next three days will no doubt notice waves of young people moving through the streets, particularly between the Springer Opera House, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Columbus State University’s facilities and the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

That’s because there will be in the neighborhood of 5,500 high school students visiting the city Thursday through Saturday as part of the Georgia Thespian Conference, a virtual sellout for the city’s hotels.

The payoff is the $1.2 million impact the event will bring to city. This is the 11th year in a row the conference has taken place in Columbus. Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of VisitColumbusGA, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, confirmed Wednesday it is one of the biggest events of the year locally.

“This is going to be in the top tier of our capacity as a city,” he said. “The thing about that is it’s using multiple venues and facilities, like the RiverCenter and the Springer. We’ve actually added St. Luke’s auditorium. The Trade Center’s providing all of the meals for the students. And it’s a great opportunity to kind of show off the walkability” of the downtown area.

For those who don’t know, thespian is 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.

Georgia Thespians is one of the largest state affiliates of the International Thespian Society, which is a 90-year-old honor society for high school theater. The Georgia conference held in Columbus is the third-largest such gathering in the United States.

The organization said more than 100 theater professionals and educators from across the United States are expected to be on hand for the three-day event that will include workshops and educational opportunities in “all aspects of show business.” The experience is to include student auditions for renowned university and conservatory theater programs across the nation.

Aside from the Springer and RiverCenter, there will be musicals and plays hosted by Columbus State University, while the downtown Marriott will be the site for workshops and exhibits. The finale on Saturday will include the awarding of more than $25,000 in scholarships at the closing ceremonies.

Participants in a basic stilt walking class taught by Heather McLendon of the Springer Theatre Academy try a line dance near the end of the Thursday afternoon workshop. The workshop was among the many offered to students attending the 2017 Georgia

Water lines repaired

The conference comes with repairs to water lines along a portion of the route that the students will take to and from the Springer Opera House. That includes temporary asphalt bumps along the edge of 10th Street, although there are plenty of caution signs along the path.

“That road construction has us a little on alert,” Bowden said. “But CSU always provides us with great security, so we feel confident. And during our after-action last year, one of the talking points was to remind these students to be aware of their surroundings, and when they’re crossing the street to just use common sense, that kind of thing.”

After the Georgia Thespian Conference pumps $1.2 million into the Columbus economy, there will be a steady stream of special events, meetings, reunions, sports competitions, military graduations and major gatherings into the spring and through the summer months.

The flow of activity will include the major Jehovah’s Witnesses convention over two weekends at the Columbus Civic Center in August, with about 15,000 people filling local hotels and doing other spending. The financial impact for the city should approach $3.4 million, according to the CVB.

“Thespians sort of officially kick off our season,” Bowden said. “It’s our first big thing and then it’s a race to the middle of summer with all the other things.”