Victoria Wallis might not have an Oscar, but she’s a winner all the same.
The 17-year-old West Hall High School senior was named best actress in the state Class-AAA One-Act Play competition this past weekend.
“I was surprised. I think all of us do our best but we don’t think for a second we’re some of the best,” Wallis said. “It was kind of a side thought ... It was very surreal.”
Even more surreal was her cast, the Spartan Players, walking away with the state title for its performance of the off-Broadway production of “The Spitfire Grill.”
“We didn’t have our first rehearsal until Sept. 14,” Drama Department Director Sarah Lindahl said. “We were thrilled and in disbelief (when we won). We knew we had a really good show but you never know what the judges are looking for.”
The plays are judged on criteria such as teamwork, portrayal of characters, staying in character and the overall effect of the production.
The competition at Northside High School in Warner Robins brought together casts from Perry, Locust Grove, Grady, Columbus, Dalton, West Hall and Cairo high schools, as well as Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta for the Class-AAA competition.
The play centers around Percy Talbott, a female parolee who goes to a small town in Wisconsin and begins working at Spitfire Grill, the town’s only eatery, Lindahl said. The grill is for sale but buyers aren’t interested, so Percy suggests the owner raffle the restaurant off to whoever can write the best essay about why they want the place. What ensues is the town, Percy and her new friends finding the real meaning of home.
“A young girl comes into this suppressed town and she inspires everyone as individuals and makes a huge impact on the town,” Lindahl said. “I chose it because it’s a musical and I have very talented students. I look for what fits my students best.”
Lindahl said normally her cast does comedies, but she had the team this year to handle the mature emotions and content of the play.
It took seven actors and 25 crew members to pull off “The Spitfire Grill,” which was directed by Lindahl and her husband, Miro Gomez, the musical director at West Hall High.
“You have 55 minutes to bring your set up, do your show and take the set off. We had to cut the full version to 52.5 minutes. It’s pretty intense,” Lindahl said.
She said the one-act version was an hour shorter than the original piece. There was no pre-written script for the condensed version, so the Spartan Players had to do it themselves.
“We had to see what was most relevant (when cutting scenes),” Lindahl said.
Some of the musical numbers that made the cut were “Colors of Paradise,” “Shoot the Moon” and “Something’s Cooking.”
Before going to the state level, schools must compete and win regionally.
West Hall High made it to the state competition two years ago and placed fourth. The school previously won first in 1994 and 1996. Lindahl, who was recently named Outstanding Theater Educator by the Georgia Thespians for this year, said only one of her cast had previously been to a state competition.
She said the Spartan Players stand out because they not only act and sing, they work together and believe in themselves.
Wallis said she wants to pursue either a career in education or as a performer. She wants to go to school in North Carolina and double major in musical theater and philosophy.
“The hardest thing about being an actress is being someone else,” Wallis said. “I found that playing Percy, I really locked into this separate world and I could really feel for this girl.”
The challenge of playing Percy involved embracing two distinct attitudes — that of a woman who appreciates the world and sees it as a happy place and that of a woman who at the same time feels herself worthless and bitter.
“Those two characteristics flowing together was the hardest part for me,” Wallis said.