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Big drama in Big Horn: Wyoming speech and debate teams bring down the house

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-19 11:21:38-04

BIG HORN — Big Horn, Wyoming, only has 457 people, but students in this tiny town are putting it on the map.

Not only has the high school's drama club won back-to-back state championships, but their speech and debate team also won their championships two years in a row.

Though they're hoping to repeat this feat, it's the culture this team has created that's setting them up for success.

Big Horn music teacher Dustin Olsen wears many hats. He's the band and choir director, and as of five years ago, the speech and debate coach, and the drama director, when he started those clubs himself.

Dustin Olsen

“We built this from the absolute bottom up from where we are today with back-to-back state championships,” said the Roundup, Montana native last Wednesday.

Olsen earned a minor in theater at MSU Billings and credits his instructors in high school and college for inspiring him to launch the programs.

They "all helped me have the confidence to be able to walk up to a principal and go, I’d like to start these two programs. Never coached them before, but I’d like to start them,” said Olsen.

With the help of his assistant drama director and assistant speech and debate coach, Jay Arcarese, these kids have become accustomed to winning and a level of professionalism you won't find at other schools.

"We're trying to instill in these kids an understanding of what does excellence look like, the amount of work it takes to produce excellence, and a recognition that excellence has many different facets to it, not just one thing," Arcarese said.

Jay Arcarese directs his drama club students

“If a student gets better from the time they start speech and debate and drama from the time they end, I’ve successfully done my job,” said Olsen.

Drama club team captain Ian Garrison is proof of the two teams' successes.

“It’s helped me a lot with growing into who I am today, because freshman me compared to me now, is a very, very large difference in everything,” Garrison said.

The 17-year-old senior scored an audition at the Julliard School in New York City last summer.

“During that process of just like being a part of this whole family and everything, I discovered that it was something I really enjoyed and that I want to do with my life,” added Garrison.

Senior Ian Garrison plays Hans in Disney's Frozen Jr.

Junior Lydia Maurhoff is playing Elsa in the drama club's upcoming production of Disney's Frozen Jr. She also has her sights set on the future.

“I for sure want to pursue this as a career. At least something. I would absolutely adore being a music teacher. Olsen’s really inspired me with everything he does,” 17-year-old Maurhoff said.

Mentors like Olsen and Arcarese are giving these small-town kids the chance to dream big.

“Together we’re a singular unit, and we’re focused on making these kids better people,” said Arcarese.

Lydia Maurhoff as Elsa in Disney's Frozen Jr.

“It just makes me want to give the same kind of positive environment for the future generations and make them love theater as much as he’s made me love theater,” added Maurhoff.

Frozen Jr. will premiere on April 5 and will run until April 13, with Olsen and Arcarese expecting sold-out shows. You can purchase tickets at their official website.

The school is also seeking donations and sponsorships to upgrade their auditorium's lights, mics, and sound. Any inquiries can be sent to Olsen at