Theater 'an extension of home' for Northwest High drama standout

·5 min read

Jul. 12—"The waiting was the hardest part," Tristyn Sutton said of the month between her live audition for this summer's Governor's Honors Program (GHP) camp. "The month of March felt like three years."

And that wait lasted even longer than she expected, as when she attempted to access the notice that would tell her whether she'd been accepted, her password failed, she said.

"Everyone was watching and waiting — it was right after a show" — so when she finally accessed her acceptance note, "I sobbed."

"I couldn't stop crying," said Sutton, a member of Northwest Whitfield High School's class of 2024. "I'd love to do theater for the rest of my life, and if GHP can help me with that, I'm excited to do it."

Students choose a major to concentrate on while at the month-long camp, which is currently ongoing at Berry College, and theater was the clear choice for Sutton.

"I was in elementary school and came to a play" at Northwest, where her mother Terri has taught for decades, and "it was so cool," she said. "They looked like they were having fun, and I wanted to do that."

She attended Northwest's summer theater camp for elementary students, and the camp counselors "were all very nice," she said. Already involved with New Hope Middle School's drama program, as a seventh-grader she asked the head of Northwest's drama program, Josh Ruben, if she could be part of Northwest's "Hairspray" production, one of her favorite musicals.

"I still have no idea (where I got)" the confidence to do that — "I was terrified" — although her mother did encourage her, and Ruben accepted her, she said. Despite being a seventh-grader among high school students, "they all took me in."

"Theater is a family — an extension of home — where you feel accepted," she said. "If I'm having a bad day, and I walk into the theater, everyone will always make me smile, cheer me up, and make me laugh."

Sutton "enjoys the rehearsal process and always comes prepared," and she "makes relevant connections between theater and her other classes," Ruben said. She has "an exceptional work ethic and loves being part of a team, due both to her work in theater and by playing sports."

A member of Northwest's Improv (improvisation) Team, Sutton "is well-versed in the ability to commit to an idea and work 'off-the-cuff,'" Ruben said. "She jumped right into a situation set up by the adjudicators and applied a level of creative skill required for GHP."

In a way, theater is similar to another of Sutton's passions, archery, which she's been involved with since the third grade.

"In archery, you have to be patient with yourself, because if you're (in a poor frame of mine), you're not going to have a good day," she said. In theater, "if you're having a bad day, and let it show, everyone can tell."

"I like being able to go out there (on stage) and not worry about what other people think about me," said Sutton, who also plays volleyball at Northwest. Ruben always emphasizes to his actors that "you're out there to do a job — to entertain — to serve the audience."

In Northwest's drama program, "we read plays in order to analyze the story and characters, but we also analyze the work from multiple perspectives, as actors, writers and directors," Ruben said. After reading David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Proof" in class, Sutton prepared and then directed her fellow students based on her concept for a particular scene, and "communicating complex ideas in order to bring the script to life made Tristyn a standout director."

"Drama nominees for GHP are not selected solely for their acting skills; in addition to presenting a monologue, the vetting process involves essays, interviews and a demonstration of directing and improvisational acting," Ruben said. "Of course, this process does more than just allow adjudicators to determine a student's skills and talents; applying to GHP requires a student to demonstrate a mature, disciplined approach to any challenge."

Georgia is the only state that does not charge students or families to attend its GHP summer camp, according to the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. This program is the longest continuously running Governor's Honors Program in the nation and the largest on a single college campus.

Sutton reached out to friends and fellow students who had been Governor's Honors Program finalists previously — including Dalton High School's Brooke Schlisner and Ari Avila, both of whom are deeply involved in theater and attended last summer's camp — to learn more about the camp and for tips on the application process.

"I'm so thankful to" Schlisner, Avila and others for "helping me through," she said. They also primed her for the summer camp, promising that "you'll love it, it'll be amazing, and you will be sad to leave."

"The application process is kind of exhausting," she said. "I sent my essay to all of my teachers" for proofreading and suggestions.

She also discussed options for her monologue with Ruben, who gave her an extensive list, from which she selected "Catholic School Girls" by Casey Kurtti, she said. "It had the emotion in it that I could show judges in two minutes."

Ruben asks students to read through a wide variety of works for GHP application monologues, and "Tristyn chose a dramatic speech from 'Catholic School Girls' because it resonated with her," a wise selection, he said. "Tristyn's interpretation of a young woman dealing with her faith was realistic and moving."