Wednesday, April 09, 2008

REV: Some notes from Area OAP

It is our studied opinion, here in podunkberg, texas, that we have a very tough district for competing in One Act Play.

Wimberley High School has an amazing program, and rare is the year in which they have not advanced out of district in the last 20 something years. They are simply that good. So the battle, while not necessarily for second place, is always for that second advancing spot. We simply know that Wimberley is going to be ultra-competitive.

From there, we come to the Ingram program, now advancing for the second time in five years to Regionals, and Bandera which was second runner-up at state last year, plus Llano which has had some serious past success. This year toss in Canyon Lake, which is a brand new school and has a cast composed entirely of freshmen and sophomores (and is certain to only improve steadily if not exponentially in the next few years), and well, you get the picture . . .

Holly Riedel and Marie Cearley are rightfully overjoyed and overwhelmed at having advanced this year with the ITM Thespians. And while strongly cautioning that i think these kids are highly deserving and have a wonderfully entertaining piece, i wonder more every day why some excellent casts here over the past years haven't likewise advanced. It's all subjective, rightfully so. I understand well the vagaries of judging, and competing in the arts, yet something nags at me – and it's the same thing that must be nagging Bandera right now with their crew that was at state last year, and LaVernia, sitting home now after Area with a fine play, a fine cast, and a superb lead actor with tons of experience. What does it take?

I'm not going to go into all my thinking on this – i love One Act competition, i personally think it allows for the teaching of some wonderful things in theatre, and creates enthusiasm in theatre amongst a lot of kids who might not otherwise be involved. But one thing stuck with me in thinking this out this week, and that is that i think i am detecting an edge that comedies have over drama. I dealt with some of my feelings about the role of dramatic background, and the idea that comedies are funnier, more literary, and accomplish more, when the dramatic subtext is respected in a post a couple of weeks ago (see my post here).

So i've been wondering if one can't get away with "more" (meaning less) by doing comedy than by doing a dramatic piece. As long as one creates laughs, one can bypass some dramatic import, perhaps can have less than a dynamite cast, be sloppy with a lot of things that then may pass as over-the-top, and in fact have poor stagecraft and sets. In a dramatic piece however, without benefit of the distraction of humor, all of those things stand out.

Before i go any further, i have to say right now that i'm not disparaging anyone, especially the two winning groups this year (both doing comedies). Wimberley is impeccable in their productions, and i clearly have an Ingram bias. I am instead looking at our success with drama versus comedies of the past – in particular seeing one horrific comedy performance years ago that eclipsed close to perfect renditions of dramatic pieces from two different schools. In trying to parse all this, it just solidified in me one of the aspects of OAP that i least like – and that is the seeming emphasis by some judges on OTT performances to the exclusion of the story.

So, away with that tangent -- let's talk about the Area competition. First let me go back to my original line in this post – that note about our district being so tough. Part two of that corollary is that our district competition has been tougher than our area competition, and quite often the two reps of our district move past area to regionals, if not state. I mention this because this year i was impressed at Area in a way i can't remember in that none of the pieces were terrible, all held my attention for their duration, and all had much to recommend them. And that is a good turn for theatre, and it means no one can any longer have some expectation, however ill-advised, of moving on to regionals so easily.

Of the schools staying home, Cuero produced a really nice Of Mice and Men, and many kudos to Jared Greenfield who played the always difficult Lennie and was named All-Star Cast for it, and Kaeron Johnson who was sublime in the delicate role of Crooks and received Honorable Mention Cast. I also thought the unawarded Ryan Lewis did a fine job overall for George although he has a softer voice and his blocking kept us from hearing much of his dialogue.

[And while i'm on that let me state one of my few negatives for the day – this is the second year that i have gone to Area at the virtually new Schertz Steele High School. How someone could build such an architecturally gorgeous building and create such an auditory nightmare is beyond me. The inside now looks like a cobbled together patchwork of soundboards – like they tried several times to fix the acoustics to no avail. It is awful in there. Someone ought to find another place for Area competition to do the kids justice.]

Marion High School put on a show i have not previously seen -- Do Not Go Gentle by Susan Zeder. It is an interesting memory play which concerns a family deciding what to do with the possessions of a family member who has passed away. This show has some fine, fine moments in it, but following the entire sequence was somewhat difficult for me as a newcomer to the piece. I was particularly impressed with Lauren Craddock as Lillian Barron, the decedent, and Ryan Mosel, the metaphorical and all-too-real Nobody she took in. Lauren was named All-Star Cast, and Ryan Honorable Mention. Also receiving Honorable Mention for them was Chelsea Craddock as Kelley.

Palacios's Charlie's Aunt was a game effort, but suffered from pacing issues – perhaps the one overriding thing you can’t get away with in comedy. That the usual showcase role of Babs earned Phillip Fiorini an Honorable Mention says something. Ben Vargas as Mr. Spettigue was named All-Star Cast. Steve Cruz and Chris Huffman did as fine a job in my opinion but were not recognized.

LaVernia put on a superb show, using the memory play Mariner by Don Nigro. It was, we thought, a piece in very tight competition for advancing play. Andrew Wortham, who has had many plum roles and made wonderful pudding of them over the years was stunning as Christopher Columbus, and was my pick for Best Actor. He is a senior, and this was his last time on stage representing LaVernia. It was hard to see them/him go. They were named alternate play. Wortham did receive All-Star Cast. I think everyone in the theatre was stunned, but none more so than Brandon Turner himself, who played the prosecutor, when he was named Best Actor. Amanda Mueller, in a really nice turn as Juana La Loca, was named Honorable Mention. I also thought Alexandra Hernandez as Beatriz et al., and Brody Walton as the Jester were deserving of recognition. In all, top to bottom, and beginning to end, i thought this was a wonderful play done wonderfully well.

Now to our travelling to Kingsville companions Wimberley. I make no secret of my like of their The History of Tom Jones at festival (see link above), and my dismay with the judges' comments about it. I didn’t blog a review from District, at least in part because i feared what i feared most had come true and that was that there were some changes made according to the whims of those judges (now, i wasn’t there so i can’t swear the Wyatts actually did that, but i detected some characterizations along the lines of what the judges suggested). The net effect for me was that i enjoyed their Tom Jones less at District than i had at festival. They, being Wimberley, and possessed of 15 phenomenal actors still put on a great show that day.

I bring all this up, because i thought their performance at Area was fantastic. I managed to overlook some of my issues and focus on enjoying the show and, just my opinion, but i thought they were "on" more at Area than they were at District. Particularly shining for me at District was Harry Tork, who simply ate up the stage, boards and all. Chris Bakka found a supersweet groove at District also and was right at perfect at Area, with a rendition of Blifil that nails my vision of the role. Calen Cabler morphed into a simply resistable (which is the exact point) seductress at District, and again perfected it at Area. She too has a presence in her moments which commands all attention. Walker Pickens has been consistently stunning through the whole series, and i really like how effortlessly he moves between characters.

Andy Patoski, in my humble opinion, is the finest actor on stage for them this year (and that’s not snubbing their other wonderful actors in any way, and also indicative of how fine i think he is). He has a highly intuitive subtlety that i like (perhaps because of my film background, but it comes across so elegantly on stage for him). He is wonderful in his role as Tom Jones. I am disappointed that he has not gained more recognition for it. I again refer back to my original post and my idea that there is a confusion about who Tom Jones is supposed to be, and because of it he has not been able to develop the appropriate charisma onstage (and thus perhaps the last two judges’ concerns about the quality of the relationship between he and Sophia – perhaps subconsciously they see the same thing i do, who knows?). Nevertheless i think he's doing a remarkable job while trying to balance the conflict.

The wonderful Mallory Watson was named to the All-Star Cast for her Honour. Walker and Andy were named Honorable Mention, and Chris Bakka was named to the All-Star Cast. All in all a superb show – which reminds me to say how much i envy and respect what the Wyatts accomplish with these kids. Wimberley has much to be proud of.

Finally our kids from Ingram Tom Moore are headed to Regionals with an adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. My opinion of course, but i think they put on a wonderful play. I do think they were better, indeed on fire, at District, but this rendition was still fine from beginning to end. They did have some serious difficulties with being heard in some cases and, with the width of the stage being nearly twice as wide as the stage they rehearse on, had a number of pacing and cue problems. Hopefully those are solved as they are rehearsing now on a bigger stage.

Lindsey Morris, playing the dual Viola and Cesario was named Best Actress. She, as much as anyone in ITM’s cast, has come the farthest in characterization since they began. And i personally think she excels at portraying the difference in her characters and in pulling off the ruse necessary to make the plot work. Madelyn Beaudoin too is superb as Sir Andrew Aguecheek – it’s a performance i didn’t think i could buy – a girl playing a man who is so effeminate as to be girly. Which is to say, she had to master being a girl attempting to play a girl. I had problems making the intermediate jump at first, but as time's gone on she has perfected the role to the point of making it possible for me to suspend the obvious difficulties and see her as the foppish Sir Andrew. Regardless of whether one buys into the three-way arc, the fact is she has created a hilarious and memorable character and she’s a delight to watch. I figured she was in the running again for Best Actress. She, of course, was named All-Star Cast.

Joining her in that award was Shana Baldwin, perhaps our second best characterization as Fabian (another gender role switch, though one for which it is not important). Her commanding voice and clownish posturing are much of what i think gets the audience’s attention right from the start and keeps it until the end. Our final cast award, Honorable Mention went to Kylie Nidever, who has the most subtle woman’s character in the play, and who i believe has been unjustly overlooked. She is wonderful every time she steps on stage. I am most disappointed that Taylor Danielson as Feste was not recognized. He too is a wonderful narrator/clown and joins Shana in developing the entire tone of the play.

Logan Stehling, Caleb Weaver, Laura Kulbicki, Tara Frels, Tino Rodriguez, Kaleb Dworsky (who won Best Actor at District) and Katrina Greenshield round out the wonderful cast. They are supported by alternates Macy Wilson and Brendan Flowers. And then's there's our fantastic crew comprised of Zack Morris, Jordan Spradling, Benton del Toro and Jason Gardner. [I am ging from memory and i dearly hope i haven't left anyone out]. What a wonderful bunch of kids.

Ingram Tom Moore Thespians
2008 One-Act Play Regional Finalists

See an earlier post for details on the Regional Competition if you'd like to attend.

[-- Okay, UPDATED all i can do for now . . . back after Regionals.

I really have more to say about all these pieces (i’ve been working on this since the weekend), but my brain is a bit fried right now, i have a rehearsal of my own to get to, and i know some folks have been awaiting my words so they could lambast me. So i’m posting this now, but may come back and add to and/or revise the whole post. In the meantime feel free to use the comment button below to yell at me. ]

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