Some of Missouri's best in high school musical theater were showcased this past week in a bravura performance at the International Thespian Festival. And this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever was a star of that show -- even though she never appeared on stage.
"This is the costume shop where we store everything," says Abby Dorning as she leads us up a long flight of stairs and into a large loft over the theater at Lee's Summit West High School -- a room jam-packed with Abby's artistry.
"So many memories, each piece means something," says Abby. "And there's memories behind each article of clothing." There are hundreds of costumes here from the shows the West High theater students have put on, most of which Abby crafted as costume designer all four years she was here.
"Everyone has their niche in high school, who they hang out with," says Abby. "Theater was mine. I loved the chaos backstage. And I loved the fast-paced process of making a show from rehearsal all the way to a show happening. And I loved art, too. So costume was a happy medium. It was my design work for clothes plus my studio art. And just loving the fast-paced lifestyle of the theater, it came together with costumes."
Some of the costumes here are from West High's musical, The Wizard of Oz, in February. It was a tour de force for Abby. She made more than 100 of the costumes for the show and fitted and maintained 200 more rented professional ones. And she got performers in and out of their costumes for the shows.
"Such a stressful time but so much fun to be in that adrenaline-chaotic-filled time," says Abby describing the experience. For her work on that show, Abby was honored this spring by Kansas City's Starlight Theatre with a Blue Star Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement in high school musical theater in the Kansas City region.
"I think there's very few students willing to go that far for something they love," says Lee's Summit West High School Theater Director Brad Rackers, Abby's mentor this past year. "You don't find very often a kid willing to put in the number of hours and has the creative vision to pull it off. Lots of people have one or the other but she seems to have both. And that's what makes her so exceptional."
Abby's track record of success got her selected this spring to Missouri State Thespians All-State Show troupe -- an elite group of about 30 terrific high school theater students from across the state. In just a few days, they got the ambitious musical, Jekyll and Hyde, ready to perform at the International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE a week ago. Abby designed and created all 50 costumes for the show -- making about a dozen from scratch.
"She has an amazing ability to do things with clothes and to create characters on stage with the things she can put people in," says Rackers who was Technical Director for the All-State show. "And it helps people really find the characters they want to be."
Abby says she never really longed to be on stage as a performer. She gets her big thrills watching from the wings. For her, it's about seeing her art help the performers create their characters -- and about the comaraderie of the theater family.
"I love the inspiration that comes from their character choices," says Abby. "And I love the different things that happen throughout the show that help inspire me and make my job fun. And toward the end when you see the costumes on stage it's more of a rewarding experience when you have that friend group to help you, encourage you to finish."
Abby loves costume design so much she wants to do it for a living, in theater, movies and TV. She'll get started on that this fall when she goes to study at Webster University Conservatory of Theater Arts in St. Louis. Before she goes there, Abby's next challenge is making costumes for the Kansas City Cappies production of Sweeney Todd in late July.
We have an update on a past Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever. Parthana Dalal, who just graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in Paririe Village, KS, won top prize in the International BioGENEius Challenge in Washington, DC for her extensive research project on blood disease. Parthana, a three-time Grand Award winner at the Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair, gets $7,500 for her International BioGENEius Challenge accomplishment.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.