The Wisconsin High School Theatre Festival dates back to 1930 — which makes it almost, but not quite, as old as the Tosa East Players, the renowned drama group founded in 1928 at Wauwatosa East High School.
Both are a bit older than Players' director Tom Thaney, but you'd have to say he's been involved in student theater for awhile. Thaney started teaching and directing in 1962 and is still going strong.
Thaney was honored last week by the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association as one of its first 11 inductees to the new Theatre Directors Hall of Fame in a ceremony at UW-Whitewater.
"We are mostly veteran or retired directors," Thaney said. "Which was neat for me because I got to see many of the people I began this career with."
Ironically, this lifetime achievement award has, at least officially, nothing to do with the culmination of Thaney's career as director at East.
"The award was for my years of service at Elmbrook," said Thaney, who spent 30 years in the Elmbrook Schools before beginning his current run of 15 years at East High.
"East never joined the association's theater division," he said, and so doesn't compete at the state drama tourney.
"The big conflict is our fall production is the same weekend as the competition," Thaney said. "That made for a busy week for me between the closing week of 'Cyrano' and going to Whitewater for the ceremony."
East's production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" closed Saturday after a two-week run.
Thaney began his education career teaching social studies at the middle school level and started directing even then. He taught speech and theater during his high school tenure with Elmbrook and after establishing himself began to win strings of awards at state.
"I went to state nine years and received eight outstanding director awards," he said, "and our plays won eight critic's choice awards."
To appreciate that level of performance, know that the road to state theater championships is as rigorous as any sports tournament — without the bruises, hopefully.
"To get to state, you have to get through a district level, a regional level, and finally sectionals," Thaney said. "In 1996, Elmbrook was selected as the state showcase production for our 'Nunsense.'"
Thaney holds a bachelor of arts degree from Concordia University River Forest, a bachelor's of science in education from UW-Whitewater, and a master of arts degree in theater arts from Schiller International University in Strasbourg, France.
He also served several terms on the Forensic Association's board of directors as well as with the state forensics coaches association, and has been a state adjudicator in Madison at state forensics competitions.
The Forensic Association's headquarters is in Waukesha, where a plaque naming Thaney as among the 11 immortals now hangs. For his part, Thaney got to take home a trophy in the form of a pyramid on a marble base.
"There's a clock mounted in the pyramid," he said. "So there's another way to watch the time tick away. It's hard to believe it'll soon be 50 years."