Picture a hilly landscape with scattered tents, costumed warriors, and directors instructing armies on the best battle strategy. This could be the setting of a Greek battle, but it was actually the Ohlone College High School Theater Festival held in Fremont on March 26 and 27.
Like Greeks ready for battle (after all, the first actor, Thespis, lived in Greece in 534 BC), 800 drama students from all over Northern California prepared to compete and share their theatrical souls with the world, or at least with the judges.
Pleasanton's Amador Valley and Foothill high schools were among those who competed, bringing a myriad of entries to showcase. However, this story doesn't start March 26; it began in September when the actors first struggled through their scenes, script in hand.
At Amador, Drama director Kelsey Hartman had chosen scripts over the summer for her intermediate and advanced students. Rehearsals began in September and, throughout the year Hartman worked with her students.
Over at Foothill's Drama department, students chose their own pieces. Class time was devoted to critiquing and the Drama director Margie McLaughlin provided guidance. Some students began rehearsing early in the year, others started much later.
"We didn't start rehearsal until three weeks ago, and we spent hours last night rehearsing," said Zach Greathouse, a senior at Foothill. He and Will Ilgen, also a senior, performed a humorous piece called Sherlock Holmes: 10 Minutes to Doom.
Students learned the elements of a winning performance and character development is among them.
"I did a lot of research on my character, Ophelia," said Karam Johal, a senior at Amador. "I read essays that analyzed her and I read and reread the play and analyses."
She and Drew Reitz, also a senior at Amador, performed a scene from Hamlet. As serious students, they rehearsed diligently, seeking feedback from friends and creating a performance that reflected their dedication to theater.
On the first day of the Ohlone competition, Reitz and Johal watched others in their category perform. Finally, they were up. Tension emanated off the performers as they turned away from the audience for a moment to focus. They had four minutes to perform, and the timer began when Reitz opened a notebook, a look of madness marked his features and his hair slightly unkempt.
The emotion in this first performance of the competition was strong, but the competition was far from over.
"Every time you perform, the scene has to come from an organic place, a place of right here, right now," Reitz said, identifying an issue every actor faces.
The actors may have recited the lines hundreds of times, but for the characters in the scene, it's always the first time.
Acting wasn't the only aspect of theater in competition. Students contended in dancing, video, makeup, costumes and technical theater. Amador brought a four-student tech team.
"Usually the 'techies' are underestimated since we aren't the ones performing on the stage, but we are the ones performing behind the curtain," said Amador senior Kate Greenup. "It's cool that Ohlone has a separate technical competition for us to compete in categories like set design, prop painting and lighting, and then there is a relay race, to see who is the fastest."
As the battle ended, the warriors of this competition were triumphant. Amador Valley had twenty-three entries, eight finalists and five award-winners, including Hamlet, which won second place. Four of the seven Foothill entries placed.
The awards were reflective of the hard work students had put into this competition, but even those who didn't place were proud of their participation in an art dating back to ancient Greece. The spirit of those performances lives on in those classrooms, waiting until next year when new characters come alive through students who enjoy creating someone else within themselves.
To learn more about the Ohlone College High School Theater Festival, visit www.ohlone.edu/instr/theatredance/hstheatre.html
Congratulations to those who placed in their categories:
- senior Mackenzie Keck – 1st place, theater dance: "Black & Gold" (song by Sam Sparro)
- seniors Karam Johal and Drew Reitz – 2nd place, classical dramatic ensemble from Hamlet
- juniors Ally Walker and Deborah Lagin – 3rd place, classical dramatic women's ensemble from Bad Seed by Maxwell Anderson
- senior Monica Jurik – 2nd place, design: Suessical
- junior Melissa Smith – 2nd place, monologue from Romeo and Juliet
- senior Olivia Andrus – 1st place, video: "Masked"
- junior Vanessa Cuevas – 2nd place, make-up (fantasy): "Imagine!"
- senior Will Ilgen – 2nd place, men's contemporary dramatic monologue from Amadeus
- senior David Valadez – 2nd place, men's classical dramatic monologue from Dogs of War