A rose among the thorns

Chelsey Thornburg becomes interim head theater director


Emma Short

Director Chelsey Thornburg directs the cast and technical crew of their UIL one act play “Kodachrome” at after school rehearsal on Feb. 28. The cast and crew went on to compete at zone and district-level UIL competitions with the show on March 3 and 7.

Walking up the on-stage stairs with a bucket full of glitter, playing the role of “Dorothy” in “The Wizard of Oz, Chelsey Thornburg trips and drops the bucket in front of her entire eighth grade class. In that instance, which just so happened to be one of the most embarrassing moments of her life, Thornburg knew she had an undefined love for the realness found in theater.

“There’s just something about that excitement of live theater that is different [from] film or TV, where you have one shot and if you don’t get it, you got to figure it out,” Thornburg said. 

Thornburg’s first show as an actor was “The Wizard of Oz” which she starred in in eighth grade, and now it’s her first show to direct as head director at Hebron after the UIL season. Thornburg’s first foray into directing was during her junior year of high school when her head director was diagnosed with cancer and needed extra help from students, to which Thornburg took the responsibility. Thornburg officially started her directing career in 2018 at Arbor Creek Middle School, though she did a variety of smaller directing gigs before that. She later moved to Hebron in the fall of 2021 when there was an opening at the freshman center. 

“I really like the students here,” Thornburg said. “It’s a good group of kids to say the least — and it’s a diverse group. I really love having that in a theater department because theater is a reflection of life, [and] having a diverse group of kids allows you to look at life from all facets instead of just your one viewpoint.”

Thornburg took over the head director position at the height of UIL one act play season, the primary annual competition for the department, and she said it’s been a whirlwind. To Thornburg, a head director’s role is being in charge of the overall artistic vision – this being where actors stand, the way the lights and sound come into play, costumes and most creative aspects of the play. Thornburg has been in charge of costumes for previous Hebron shows while being an assistant director, but according to students, she never let the title of “assistant” define or lessen her role.  

“She would do everything – she would do costumes, write rehearsal reports with the stage managers [and ask] us questions,” theater student senior Nzinga Thompson said. “If our director wasn’t there, she’d be helping us with our characters [to a point] where we would get through so much development [in] just three hours.” 

To Thornburg, theater is a lot more than the performance itself. She said theater is subjective – anyone can determine if a show is great or terrible. Striving for that perfection can often lead to things falling apart, so she likes to focus more on the journey. 

“My goal is to show progress,” Thornburg said. “Not necessarily progress of having the perfect show or the most beautiful show, but progress in how the students feel, how they’re learning and the connections they make in their design [and taking] ownership of everything.” 

According to theater student sophomore Ayra Kasamali, Thornburg is a hands-on director and is always on stage helping students. Kasamali has started to see certain qualities that Thornburg has in herself and said Thornburg guides her students and helps them grow as actors and people. 

“She’s helped me grow as an actor in so many ways, not just because of acting, but also etiquette-wise,” Kasamali said. “She’s gotten me to be more organized and self aware of what I say and when, [since] etiquette is really important when you’re in an audience [as well as] when you’re in [a] cast.”

Theater has been a part of Thornburg’s life for so long to where it holds a vast importance, which she described as magical. Regardless of Thornburg’s personal background, to her, the best parts are the moments where her students feel the magic and are able to establish their own perspective. 

“In theater, whatever you decide to create, whatever magic you decide happens, there’s a [finished] product you essentially get to take and breathe life into,” Thornburg said. “Seeing students make connections and discoveries within their character or design [as well as witnessing] those light bulb moments [they experience] — those are my favorite.”