State drama champs
Gainesville High school students who took part in the Class AAA one-act play championship, performing "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
Cast: Nick Boleman, Greg Bryant, Abby Cooley, Hayden Couch, Taylor Hall, Isaac Hopkins, Molly Jenkins, Joel May, Patrick Rooks and Ariel Thilenius.
Support crew: stage manager Katie Rooks, music director Julia Lackey, choreographer Palmer Booth Ramsay, director Parker Couch, plus Stefanie Darby, Ginnie Highsmith, Anna Goode, Callie Sartain, Carey Sartain, Mack Boyd, Bond Syfan, Mary Tess Syfan, Tyre Wimpye, Davis Couch and Shaw Carter (lights).
Months of rehearsal have paid off for drama students at Gainesville High School, who were recently named state champions.
The students performed "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" for the Georgia High School Association One-Act Play State Championship on Nov. 13 at Northside High School in Columbus.
During the awards ceremony, senior Taylor Hall said the students reacted with scream-your-head-off exuberance when they heard they won the One-Act Play title among Class AAA schools.
"We were all jumping up and down and screaming," Hall said. "We were given a silver cup. It's really shiny and I'm afraid to touch it because it might break."
The annual one-act play competition awards the top school from eight regions in Georgia that advance after winning a regional competition. Each group is given 55 minutes to set up, perform and take down the set.
Gainesville selected the "Putnam County" musical because the cast was familiar with the material, Hall said. The students had performed the show the previous year to positive reviews.
The musical centers on a fictional spelling bee in which six overachieving contestants, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, vie for the championship of a lifetime.
"They all have quirks but they're all just regular kids like we all were at one point," Hall said.
A major strength was the students' believability during the performance, drama teacher Pam Ware said. The judges remarked that the characters were developed in a realistic way. The drama students were also judged on pacing, listening and responding, and the flow of the production, among other criteria.
"We had straight superiors for each of the categories," Ware said.
Ware said the state competition can have a profound impact for students because they get a taste of the type of glory that more often goes to athletes. The drama department at Gainesville, under Ware's direction, has won the title eight times since the 1970s, but the last came in 1995.
"It had been a while since (Ware's) last title. We think she is a stellar director and wonderful person and we wanted to give it our all not only because we wanted to win, but because Ms. Ware deserved to win," Hall said.
Though not all drama students go on to professional stage careers, they still benefit from the experience of high school theater. Ware said it teaches the teenagers commitment, responsibility and dedication.
To prepare for their roles, the students gave up their Monday nights to practice their vocals and acting.
Junior Isaac Hopkins, who played the school's vice principal, said many came to see the theater and cast as a second family.
"The main thing was our ability to work as an ensemble. I think that helped us get to the top," he said.
Ware said "Putnam County" required a lot of collaboration as there were no leads; each character was equally important to the play.
"The students made a lot of personal sacrifices to prepare for this," Ware said. "They fine-tuned this and put forth the best product to represent our school and the arts. I could not be prouder," she said.
The Gainesville drama students will reprise their roles in "Putnam County" for performances March 23-24 at Gainesville High School. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m.; admission will be $5.
Hopkins said the show is a "thank you" to the community for their financial and emotional support.