Actor’s experience in state competion

Rosa Stern Pait, Co-Editor in Chief

I woke up at six o’clock on March 1st with the calm feeling Saturdays usually bring. I promptly threw myself out of bed and stood, heart pounding, in the middle of my room. It was the day of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild’s high school competitive drama festival preliminary round, to be hosted at the high school.

The high school’s States play this year is a comedy called “V for Vendetti” about a family who owns a struggling pizzeria in the North End. A misunderstanding leads their grown son, Victor, to believe his grandfather has tasked him with killing the health inspector. A rollicking adventure through Boston ensues.

The show was created by the cast, with guidance from directors Mark VanDerzee and Mary Mastandrea, the only ensemble-written piece at this site. It began in December with short improvised pieces, one of which featured a nebbishy young man being interrupted in a kidnapping attempt by his overbearing mother. This scene led to more specific prompts from the directors until we got a solid grip on what we wanted the play to be about.

Then we would split into groups every day to write scenes from a plot outline and fine tuned them until we got what we wanted. After that, the play was cast and we began to rehearse, making changes up until the final rehearsal before the preliminary round of judging.

Beside just the acting, festival day itself is no small undertaking. The high school hosts a round every year, and the entire Drama Society, including teachers and parents, mobilizes to prepare, making posters during drama class and leading schools around on tours. Hundreds come through the doors on that Saturday morning who must be fed and shepherded around the school.

My day began at 6:45 in the morning to help set up the directors’ and judges’ rooms and prepare classrooms for school groups to change and leave their belongings. As schools began to arrive, we greeted them and directed them to the auditorium. People sat in tight knots with their cast and crew-mates but spread out more as the day went on and audience members left.

All actors and techies are required to watch every show, except the one directly before theirs, or risk being disqualified. Each of the eight plays were 30 to 40 minutes long with a 20 minute break between them and a half hour break after every two shows.

The show’s masters of ceremonies were senior Jan Meese and junior Dillon McGuire, who’s commentary was light and fun while also keeping us on track as they read us the rules of the festival, having us wiggle our fingers in the air and then clap after each one was read off to show we were paying attention.

The first show was “Distracted”, a contemporary play by Newburyport High School about the parents of a nine-year-old boy who may have ADHD and their conflict about how and whether to treat him while they themselves cannot detach from technology.

The second show, by the Montrose School, was “The Long Christmas Dinner” by Thornton Wilder, who also wrote “Our Town”. This melancholy play follows a family through generations of Christmas dinners, while family members are born, entering in the arms of a silent nurse, and die, exiting behind a black-draped panel.

Pope John XXII High School performed “Wiley and the Hairy Man”, a legend told partially in rhyme of a boy who lives with his conjure-woman mother and faithful dog by a swamp haunted by the evil Hairy Man. The magic of the swamp was brought to life by actors in full body suits who replaced most of the traditional set.

Boston College High School presented Act 1 of “Clybourne Park”, a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and a look at American racism in the 50’s and today.

After “V for Vendetti” was Sacred Heart School’s “Moby Tick”, an alternative piece based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with game show and television advertisements which tackled themes such as murder, belief, insanity, cruelty, greed, and the evil inside of us.

Next was “She Kills Monsters”, by Boston Latin School. It is a comedic drama, the story of a young woman whose late sister played the popular role play game Dungeons & Dragons and who decides to play the game as a way to connect to her memories of her sister.

The final play was “Cassandra” by Weymouth High School, an intense piece which explores the ancient Greek tragedy of Cassandra, the Trojan prophet whom no one believes, pleading with the gods in the temple of Athena as the city is sacked by the Greeks. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative of all shows, cheering and applauding loudly after each one, and schools chatted and laughed with one another during the breaks.

After “Cassandra”, most audience members went home, leaving students and directors to have dinner and chat about the plays together. The atmosphere was almost hysterical as we sang a call-and-response game together in the cafeteria. After dinner, directors, judges, and students split off, each to debrief and discuss. Students congregated in the Black Box to ask questions of other shows, at which point we were all fully steeped in the excitement all around us and quick to laugh.

Needs Improvment, the high school’s improv troupe, performed for all the schools as the judges deliberated upstairs. They called up the Boston Latin School’s improv troupe, Yellow Submarine, to perform with them as well. Everyone had a dance party at one point and we watched a video by Meese and McGuire recapping the day.

Finally, the judges returned. Speeches were made, volunteers thanked, awards given out for exceptional work and performances. With some ceremony, the three performances to advance onto semifinals were announced: “Wiley and the Hairy Man” by Pope John, “Clybourne Park” by Boston College High School, and “V for Vendetti”. Finally reaching the brink of exhaustion, the other schools left for home while Brookline students cleaned up, celebrated, and eventually went home at around 11.

The overall feel of the day was casual, everyone brought together by a love of theater. I felt a true connection to the other schools there, even to people I never spoke to, as we applauded, sang, talked, and laughed as one huge group.

Being in the States festival has tied me especially to the cast and crew of our show. Working together so cohesively has made us close, and spending so much time together has bonded us, through good and through bad.

 Rosa Stern-Pait can be contacted at [email protected]