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The Lied Center for Performing Arts' largest annual event will be pulling up stakes next summer.

The International Thespian Festival, which has been at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for one week each summer since 1995, will be moving to Indiana University in Bloomington next summer as conference attendance continues to grow each year.

Since it first moved to Lincoln, the conference has grown from 2,100 attendees to 4,500 in almost 25 years. High school students from 47 states, Canada, China, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates made up the core group of this year's attendees.

Festival spokeswoman Sandra Lundgren said the festival's move was dictated by the program's need to accommodate its continued growth.

Lundgren said the facilities in Bloomington are not too dissimilar than what UNL's campus has to offer. But Bloomington can accommodate 6,500 students, and she said the festival wants to grow and allow more students to attend.

"For the last three years we've sold out all our spots before we've even met the registration date," Lundgren said. "It's that and only that that's the reason we're moving to a venue with a larger house."

Lied Center spokesman Matthew Boring said that while the performing arts facility would be losing its largest festival, it wouldn't affect programming. He said the Lied Center staff would look to fill the newly opened slot with more shows and performances.

"This week was basically on hold for years and years, and previously we've had touring shows that weren't able to perform at the Lied Center because our schedules didn't match up. Now we can work with them," Boring said. "We want to bring performances, speeches, conferences, just the best of every performance art to Lincoln. This gives us more chances to do that."

Boring said the Lied Center can be an attractive venue for conferences and festivals like the thespian gathering because of its proximity to downtown Lincoln. Restaurants and the Haymarket are just a few blocks away from the venue, and it's easy for the students to walk around the area and experience Lincoln.

He contrasted the vibrant culture of the city surrounding the performing arts center to the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, which he described as disconnected from the rest of the city.

"It's a beautiful facility, but in most cities everything is so disparate," Boring said. "It's unique that our location is so close to everything."

Students reported a welcoming atmosphere in the city throughout the week. Some businesses, such as the Coffee House, offered discounts to them.

"I went to Raising Canes every single day this week, and they know me by name at this point," said John Bush, a graduating senior from Gainesville, Georgia. "I think there's a lot of welcoming people."

Boring said the Lied Center staff will miss working with the festival staff, but he personally is glad to see the event growing, and hopes it will one day return to Lincoln.

"When it first started, the festival actually took place in Indiana, so you never know," Boring said. "We're happy to see the festival growing so quickly and while we're sad to see it go, we hope we can get the chance to work with it again someday."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.

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