Best in show: VHHS drama department brings home state championships
Vestavia Hills High School theater principal Jamie Stephenson has always told her students not to expect to win state championships.
If the students connected with their audience, they achieved their primary goal, she said.
“I told them to leave it on stage,” Stephenson said. “It’s for the public.”
After receiving a standing ovation from their peers following their early December performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’, they knew they had done their job, Stephenson said.
As students left the Walter Trumbauer High School Theater Festival in Troy, Stephenson said other performers shouted, “You’re amazing!”
“That’s why we do it,” Stephenson said.
But when the virtual awards ceremony took place later in the day, all the hard work of the students was even more rewarded as they claimed first place in the state championship.
“They couldn’t be denied,” Stephenson said. “It was really a feeling of pride for these students. It was their show. »
Senior Brantley Newsome said it was “so, so special” to be able to compete this year and win a championship after losing all of 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the culmination of everyone’s work,” Newsome said.
Newsome was with three of his fellow theater students. Exhausted from the competition, they relaxed with an ice cream while watching the ceremony from their phone. Newsome first learned that she had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The car fell silent, stunned by the good news, before hearing the performance of the band had won Best in Show.
“It was just very special,” Newsome said.
Fellow senior Evan Moreno was at a friend’s house baking apple pie when he heard the good news.
“It was so exciting,” Moreno said. “There was a voice in my head… there is always this doubt. … I’m so proud of everyone.
Performing Shakespeare comes with its own challenges, and this has been made more difficult by the structure of the state competition. If a school chooses to do a studio production, they’re much more focused on individual play, and they only have 30 minutes to set up, put on the show, and get off stage, Stephenson said. The play itself was 27 minutes long, she said.
In addition to having to cut “Comedy of Errors”, usually a four-hour production, to 30 minutes, the band also cut it down from the hour-long production they played for their bandmates and community.
“Our students are so talented and gifted,” Stephenson said. “It wasn’t as difficult as I thought.”
Moreno said it was frustrating at first to switch between shows, but once he saw them as two separate shows, it helped. Newsome said the struggle for some artists was the difference in lines between performances, but everyone worked hard to make it a success.
“You had to be ready to be flexible,” Moreno said.
The studio format also limits what can be on stage, with no standalone sets allowed. Only a few wooden parts and portable accessories could be used.
“I actually like it,” Stephenson said. “It challenges me to think outside the box.”
The students formed a “human table” and used their bodies as a doorway, she said. The students used a flashlight as a prop to create a unique lighting effect that added to the show, Stephenson said.
Rehearsal began in September, followed by community performances and then the Trumbauer District Competition, where Vestavia Hills High School won six awards and qualified for the state.
Stephenson said this year’s band were a “dream team” and despite their initial hesitation over Shakespeare, they grew to appreciate the play and were able to put on an award-winning performance.
Newsome is a “powerhouse” and Moreno stepped up during the performance, Stephenson said. Sophomore Colton Smith also picked up an individual award, winning Best Lead Actor. Norah and Ryanne Trench were also part of the all-star cast.
Newsome also won two first-place awards in individual competitions, one for “Classic Solo Comedy University” and one shared with Norah Trench for “Contemporary Duo Comedy University”. Jillian King won first place for “Makeup Design College.”
The following students achieved “higher” rankings in their respective individual test:
► Bella Grace Baker: solo musical contemporary dramatic ballad: novice
► Dana Plays: solo contemporary comedy: novice
► Ruihuang Ding: costume design: novice
► Katelyn Holt: contemporary dramatic solo: intermediate
► Reagan Kessler and Adeline Smith: Dramatic Contemporary Acting Duo: Intermediate
► Sara Kate Lynch and Ava Moore: contemporary comedy in duet: varsity
► Hanna Beth Smith: management: novice
► Ryanne Trench: musical contemporary dramatic ballad solo: varsity
While Vestavia Hills High School students won the top prize about five years ago for their rendition of “Almost, Maine,” it’s the most awards they’ve won at the state level. , said Stephenson.
The energy at the state meet was “crazy,” Moreno said. “It’s a whole different performance experience.”
Although he’s made some friends, the state meet is really competitive, Moreno said. Some of the schools Vestavia competes against are dedicated to the arts, allowing them to focus more on their shows, while Vestavia artists have other academic and extracurricular responsibilities, he said.
Both Newsome and Moreno have been involved in acting since middle school, and this year’s acting group has been together for a long time.
“It was really fun watching it all grow,” Newsome said.
Newsome said she enjoyed being the “carpool mom” this year, driving ninth-graders from campus freshman to high school for rehearsals.
“Those are the times when you get people interested,” Newsome said. “It was a really fun part of the process.”
As Newsome plans to become a doctor and Moreno plans to pursue a career in psychology, they both want to keep acting in their lives. The lessons and memories of being part of a production will last beyond their high school years, Moreno said.
“It’s so rewarding to work so hard on something for weeks and months and then to present it in front of an audience that wants to see it and feel that fulfilling moment of ‘I did it; I did that and it made people happy,” Moreno said.