TFS Thespian of the Year: Henry Thomas


Design by Lakshmi Ojha

Senior Henry Thomas, this year’s TFS Thespian of the Year, will attend Emerson College in the fall for Media Arts Production.

Connor Boyle, Editor-in-Chief

The unsung heroes in the flashy world of theater are always tech crew, working backstage to create a visually stunning and smooth running production; but Lake Forest’s tech crew has their own hero: senior Henry Thomas, problem solver, leader, and stage manager extraordinaire.

Born and raised in Lake Bluff, Thomas was first exposed to the world of tech crew at Lake Bluff Middle School, which is known for high-quality and high-participation musical productions.

“I think we were doing Wizard of Oz. I started out building sets with Ms. EJ and just fell in love with it,” said Thomas. “I don’t know why I loved it because it was a lot of painting. I hate painting.”

Next year, he would join the run crew for Footloose, his eighth grade musical, where he was “planning out who would be moving what pieces, giving me more responsibility than what I probably should have gotten.”

However, after his brief tech stint, Thomas planned to stop in high school to pursue his dream of being an aerospace engineer. Still, he enrolled in the first-ever Stagecraft class his first semester.

“I was planning on dropping it, but I just never got around to it,” said Thomas. “I got there and said, ‘Eh, I’m just not going to drop it, the people are nice enough.’”

The tech crew of She Kills Monsters gathers before the show. (Mr. Corey Holmer)

Taught by social studies and theater teacher Mrs. Kelly MacBlane, he learned more about set design, and MacBlane encouraged him to get involved with after-school tech. The class had a 7-hour requirement for out-of-class tech work, so Thomas began helping with the freshman-sophomore play, She Kills Monsters. (There was one show, the fall play Rumors, before that, “So I’ve done every show but one, which bugs me to this day,” he said.)

After that day, Thomas would grow into an essential part of tech, developing strong lighting, design, and video editing skills. Thomas was also able to become an International Thespian Society member his freshman year—a rare occurrence, and even rarer because he met the 200 required theater hours in only a few months.

 “That’s what I enjoy about tech a lot, teaching people how to do something, and their face or reaction when they finally get it is the amazing part for me,” said Thomas. “It’s a life skill they can take with themselves for the rest of their lives. When they’re happy about it, I’m happy about it.”

Over the past four years, Thomas has become a mentor for his peers and a valuable resource for directors.

“Watching his growth from being a scared little freshman who doesn’t know what he’s doing to a leader who carries himself as an adult and an equal in his role within the theater community was pretty amazing to watch,” said MacBlane.

However, his time with high school theater has not been without challenges. Less than a year after he started, Thomas became part of the small number of students who stayed with tech crew during the Covid-era school year.

“That was definitely the closest-knit tech crew that we’ve had at my time there,” said Thomas, “because it was five people for the vast majority of the year, always there, always working. That was pretty much the only social interaction I had.”

Online theater was a difficult hurdle to overcome, especially for tech, but Thomas was a source of commitment and aid.

Thomas used three iMacs during the 2020 One Acts, monitoring the actors and their Google Meets. (Mr. Corey Holmer)

The 2020 One Acts were performed live on Google Meets, and in order to keep everything running smoothly, Thomas was glued to three iMacs for the entire performance “like a command center,” said EdTech Mr. Corey Holmer. “He just handled it. We didn’t have to check on him, and we could just worry about the next thing,” he said.

Thomas developed the process of splitting up the recording process for virtual shows, which was used for the remaining online shows, and he was also crucial in Talent Show’s decision of moving away from Zoom to pre-recording acts in 2021, staying at school as late as 11:30.

Also, “during Spamalot, we were going to be outside on a lawn to inside in 24 hours,” said Holmer, “and him and [former tech member Kel Sheridan] worked together, figured it all out, we filmed the entire thing, and saw an amazing show at the premiere.”

Thomas credits the online theater experience for introducing him to film and editing. 

“Theater online probably changed my life the most because that’s where I started getting into that New Media world,” he said. “New Media never would have happened without theater.”

Thomas has also been an essential part of the New Media program at Lake Forest, which focuses on film production, and he has worked on multiple award-winning short films through the program. Thomas will be studying Media Arts Production at Emerson College in Boston this fall, and says that his tech experience has made him a better film creator.

“I’ve learned how to tell stories, how scripts are formatted, how to read scripts, how to interpret scripts, so that’s definitely something I’ll take with me,” said Thomas. “Also how audiences react to things, what things people like to see, don’t like to see, and just how to direct people. Theater showed me how stories are told and has taught me to be a better storyteller which is something I can take with me for the rest of my life.”

Backstage, Thomas is a constant leader among the tech crew, advocating for his peers and working with directors to improve productions.

“Henry has been one of the most organized, one of the best communicators with us as directors, also in terms of stage manager he has a great ability to make things happen and get things done,” said MacBlane of Thomas who has stage managed the musical for the past two years. “Henry’s been one of the best stage managers we’ve worked with. Right from the beginning, we knew we could rely on him and make the show a success.”

He is also hailed for his problem solving skills, which is important in an environment with “things always going wrong, falling apart, and he handles it with such maturity,” said MacBlane.

Thomas, continuing the tradition set by a previous senior tech member, always lies in front during cast photos. (Mr. Corey Holmer)

“He is a big problem solver when it comes to technology,” said Technical Director Ms. Mary Toledano, “so when we need to accomplish something we’re not sure how to do, such as projections or video or lighting, he is motivated to try and figure it out on his own.”

Thomas acts as both a leader and a friend to his peers, which in turn creates a stronger tech crew.

“He has a great rapport with all his peers,” said Toledano. “He really likes to motivate everybody, keep everybody together, make everybody work as a team. He really just wants to put out the best product he can as a representative not just of himself but of everybody.”

And while the directors agree that the theater department is losing many strong seniors this year, losing Thomas will be especially challenging.

“[Theater next year] will be missing a strong sense of leadership,” said senior Vince Boberski “It’s going to be missing a lot of expertise. No one is as confident as Henry is, which in the world of the high school theater when everything is constantly up in the air is really comforting, and brings tech and the whole show together. [Tech is] going to be missing one of its centers of gravity.”