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History of INTAF

In the spring of 1981 H. James Brown and Tom Armitage were talking in a Safeway parking lot waiting for kids to buy goodies for the ride home after a disappointing weekend at a high school theatre festival in an Inland Northwest city other than Spokane.


They talked about how disappointed their students were at the this “acting for trophies” theatre festival which was more of a fund raiser for the institution that hosted it than it was an event that was meant to excite high school kids about theatre arts.  They thought, “we should start our own festival in Spokane.”  Later that summer they and Jack Betts, who was the drama teacher at Central Valley High School, sat around Jack’s dining room table and came up with the idea of INTAF.


The first festival was held at Mead High School in October of 1981.  There were about eight or ten schools represented and 116 students attended.  The festival has changed over the years, but it’s intent has not—to inspire high school students to love and participate in theatre arts.  As the years have gone by, the festival usually has about 300 students from 20 high schools.


After that first festival, Jack left teaching and Karen Brathovde joined the coordination team.  Later Meagan Coffee Swenson and Jenn Hunter contributed, but left Spokane.  Later Greg Pschirrer, Jessica Rempel, and Sydney Baird Childers joined the group.  For a few years, Andrew Ware Lewis also helped coordinate. 


There has always been a Friday night show.  At first the host school would perform the fall show it was rehearsing.  One year Mead performed “Godspell” and another year Ferris presented “The Pajama Game.”  After a while, it was decided that hosting the festival and performing a full length show was a bit much for the host school, so outside performances were brought in.  At first Don McLeod, a professional mime performed for the Friday night show.  He had worked as the “Official Mime of Expo 74” where H. James Brown became acquainted with him.  Don’s performances were loved by the students for many years, and he also gave great mime workshops.  He has had a very interesting career.  He became a well known gorilla acting in American Tourister luggage commercials as well as the “real” gorilla in the hit comedy, Trading Places, staring Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd.  After a while different shows played the Friday night slot including Bryan Harniteau’s York, a play about the only African American on the Lewis and Clark expedition; a one woman show featuring local actress, Melody Deatherage, a new play by local playwright and radio personality, Molly Allen; and many times actors from the Oregon Shakespeare festival have performed. 


The Saturday night showcase has also undergone changes. At first there were four two actor scenes in the non-musical showcase and a musical showcase.  If a student auditioned for the non-musical showcase they were required to memorize the lines for all four scenes.  Only four males and four females were allowed to audition, and even though they had to memorize all the lines of all the scenes, the trade off was that all of the auditionees were guaranteed a part.  After a while that changed, and four students per school could audition for the non-musical showcase but no one was guaranteed a part.  Students who wanted to be in the musical showcase just had to learn the song and show up, but recently they have had to audition. 


A variety of wonderful theatre artists have shared their experiences as the Saturday Night speaker: Joan Welch, co-founder (with her husband, Bob) of Spokane Interplayers Ensemble; Lerria Schuh from West Coast Entertainment; Hollywood actor and Lewis and Clark High School graduate, Craig T. Nelson; and Broadway and Hollywood actor, Jason Michael Snow, a Ferris High School graduate. 

Many many great theatre artists have given workshops over the years.  One of the most memorable was Dana C. Brown.  Dana was the drama teacher at R.A. Long High School in Longview, Washington.  He gave a variety of good workshops, but his most memorable was about accessing emotion.  Kids would come out of those workshops in tears telling their drama teachers that it was the best workshop they had ever attended. He was a Rogers High School drama kid with H. James Brown, and they remained friends until Dana’s death after a tough fight with cancer.  For several years the coordinators bestowed an award on someone who supported INTAF and high school theatre arts. Because Dana really exemplified everything INTAF was about, the INTAF Award became the Dana C. Brown INTAF award. Recipients include Linda Harrison who has given make-up workshops at the festival for many years, Silhouette Lights and Staging now known as VIP Productions, Mary Windishar who as given workshops for many years, Spokane Civic Theatre, and the theatre program at the University of Idaho.


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