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Photo courtesy of Eric St. John.
The cast and crew of Spain Park High School’s one-act play “Martin Thurber, Boy Wonder.”
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Photo courtesy of Eric St. John.
Spain Park students perform in “Martin Thurber, Boy Wonder,” a play was about a young boy who was bullied at school and takes a trip into his own imagination.
Two local high schools competed and placed in the 76th Walter Trumbauer Secondary Theatre Festival at UNA. It featured more than 100 schools across the state and more than 2,000 students competing in one-act plays.
After advancing from the district competition in November, students from both Chelsea High School and Spain Park High School walked away with group and individual awards.
More than 1,700 students competed in 30 events, in both novice and varsity categories at the state theater competition in December 2016.
The teachers and several of the students talked about their experience:
Chelsea High School
The students from Chelsea High School performed “The Yellow Boat,” the story of 8-year-old Benjamin Saar, who contracted the AIDS virus from a bad blood transfusion and died in 1987. His father, David, took his son’s story and turned it into a play. The show also featured the drawings Benjamin created as his health deteriorated.
Chelsea theater teacher Francie Gardner said she does a lot of research when selecting shows. She looks for ones that will do well in competition, are well written and have good character development. Although she said it is often difficult to find all of these in a one-act play, she felt “The Yellow Boat” was a good fit for her students.
“My husband was sick, and we were reading it together in the hospital, and we were both crying at the end,” Gardner said. “The kids trusted me, and we went with it. I have to give them kudos.”
The day before opening night of their performance at Chelsea High School, Gardner’s husband died.
The show did go on, and the students rallied together to make it happen.
“The show was not together, and we were allowed to spend the entire next day in the auditorium. We spent the whole day rehearsing,” said Josh Eubanks, who played Benjamin in the play and won Best Actor, One-Act Festival at the Trumbauer Festival.
“When we first got the show, we thought no one was going to like it,” Eubanks said. “I didn’t think the audience was going to get the concept of an almost 20-year-old playing an 8-year-old boy.
Eubanks also won first place for Solo Acting Male Contemporary Comedic Individual Event for his own original script.
“It was a mix of everything I didn’t like about the Trumbauer Festival; I wrote it a couple of days before we went to district. It was the very last award announced. It took me three minutes to get to the stage because I was shaking and crying,” he said.
Other winners included Brantley Waller, who played Benjamin’s child therapist in the play. She won All Star Cast, as well as second place, Solo Acting Female Contemporary Dramatic Individual Event. Kyra Harris won third place for makeup design, for her drawings of the play’s eight characters design and makeup based on each.
The students said theirs was one of the most talked-about shows at the competition.
“People don’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes,” Waller said. “It’s literal blood, sweat and tears and months of prep.”
Gardner said she teaches some of her students their entire four years of high school, and it’s amazing to watch them grow. She looks forward to seeing their progress after high school.
“They’re going to do so well (after high school),” she said. “This class has some real talented people in it.”
The two theater departments share a connection. Spain Park theater teacher Eric St. John previously taught at Chelsea, and Francie Gardner took over the program when he left.
Coming in third place, this was the fifth year in a row Spain Park had placed in the top three in the state. They also had nine individual events place in the top three in state.
The students wrote their own original play, “Martin Thurber, Boy Wonder.” They also created the costumes and wrote the music. St. John said he was extremely proud of his students.
“It makes me happy. Here is something they completely created, and it placed in the top three in the state,” St. John said.
The play was about a young boy who was bullied at school and takes a trip into his own imagination. He becomes the sidekick to his favorite comic book hero and helps him fight the villain. It’s about learning to stand up for yourself and do the right thing, win or lose.
The day before the competition, they performed for the third-graders at Rocky Ridge Elementary. St. John said it gave his students the energy they needed to perform at the competition.
Max Johnson, who played Captain Nebula, the hero of the main character, won Best Supporting Actor at the Trumbauer Festival. He also designed and drew the costumes.
He said the process of writing the play was fun for the class, and they enjoyed doing a comedy this year.
“We thought it would be a break from a dramatic play, and they wanted to make people laugh,” Johnson said. “I think it set us apart from the other schools. We enjoy writing them and having a say in what we’re doing; it sets you apart from everyone else. Writing your own stories is more enjoyable.”
Barrett Bennett and Cameron Ferguson both won awards for One Act All-Star Cast. Ferguson played the role of Martin Thurber, and Bennett played the bully who transforms into the main villain in the comic book world.
Johnson said St. John respects hard work and has a vision for each play.
“He knows when to have fun and also when they need to act like a professional theater company,” he said. “He calls us to be more than just a high school theater production.”