Cedar Ridge theater students will compete against other high school groups at the regional High School Play Festival this weekend.
Performing at Weaver Academy in Greensboro, the students will have the chance to be professionally adjudicated as well as watch 15 other high school performances. As part of the North Carolina Theater Conference High School Play Festival, eight regional Festivals will take place across the state this weekend.
The two highest ranked performances from each region will advance to the State Festival, which is affectionately known as the “State Football Championships of Theatre,” according to the NCTC website. The top two state shows will move on to the national Festival.
Cedar Ridge will be performing “Grenadine” by Neil Wechsler, a play with characters that Cedar Ridge Theater Arts Director Evan Mitchell says fits his students’ quirky and curious personalities.
This short, 45-minute long piece is about “four bumbling companions” who seem like the most unlikely of friends. After a few minutes, “you kind of just fall in love with them,” Mitchell attests. Coupled with humor, each character expresses their odd sensibilities while striving to do well.
The cast consists of nine students, all in the advanced theater class, and one student from a theater tech course.
This advanced theater class is considered the performance ensemble, the highest level of theater at Cedar Ridge. Once students take the beginning or intermediate level of theater, they are eligible to audition for the advanced class, which is made up of both proficient and advanced level theater students. This course tends to be mainly juniors and seniors.
The class functions similar to a repertory company, in which all members will have a part in the chosen production, but must audition for their specific role.
The theater tech class curriculum, a class that Mitchell also teaches, requires the students to help with at least one show during the semester.
Of the nine performance ensemble students, four students are cast as the four main companions and the remaining five each play the different personalities the companions run into on their journey. This means they play four to five character each.
“There are lots of quick changes and lots of just fun happening from all angles,” Mitchell said. “It’s really about companionship and perseverance and relationships and how they evolve over time.”
This play is a favorite of Mitchell’s, as he was able to perform the piece when he was a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I love this play. I knew it well, and it’s something I always wanted to work on again,” he said. “The specific group of kids I have right now, it just fits really well with the type of show.”
“Grenadine,” was chosen as the second winner of the Yale Drama Series in 2009. The play was selected by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and contest judge Edward Albee.
Wechsler graduated from Yale University in 1996 with distinction in Philosophy and Psychology.
With four men with four very different philosophies, they embark on a quest for “lost love and a good meal,” a Yale theater critic describes. This journey involves “fruits, fiddles and a two-legged Dachshund.”
These four friends, Prismatic, Grove, Sconce and Pyx, bonded during their time on a prison work farm and upon release, are seeking the “mythic” Grenadine, the woman who stole both Prismatic's heart and the men's freedom.
Each character represents a literary genre – while in prison, Prismatic only read love poetry, Grove only read science, Sconce only mythology and Pyx only religion. This alone sets the stage for interesting conversation, and in the form of endearing characters and “witty wordplay,” the play comes alive on stage.
The characters, in search for the meaning of freedom, must stave off the pangs of hunger, survive disagreements and of course, battle a swarm of bees.
“Will Sconce find his place in a modern world? Can Pyx's faith overcome the swallowing swells of the sea? Can Grove ditch logic and open his heart? And will Prismatic ever find his lost love, Grenadine?” the description posed.
The students have perfected this play during their 90-minute class everyday, but this week will put in time afterschool to prepare for the competition and a local performance.
This amount of class time allows students to develop a great ensemble, but also allows students to form close friendships that really come across in the work that they do, Mitchell said.
“With the wonderful, quirky group of kids I have right now, I wasn’t looking for a really intense, serious piece, because that didn’t fit the specific group of kids I have right now,” Mitchell said. “I wanted something that was fun and has a lot of depth to it that they’ll be able to explore.”
The ensemble will perform at the competition on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. and attend the award ceremony that evening.
Each performance is given formal adjudication from a two-judge panel. Judges will pinpoint places for improvement and suggest works they see fit for the ensemble in the future.
Each group is given a formal sheet of paper in which the judges have more clearly expressed area of improvement and what things the students did well. This paper includes ranking from judges, the highest a superior rating – the goal for the Cedar Ridge theater group.
Each school is allowed to stage up to two different performances. With 16 shows total, students will be competing against at least eight other schools.
Students will have the chance to watch other performances and meet students and teachers from other schools.
Before they go to competition, they are holding a local performance on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. at Cedar Ridge. The show costs $5 at the door and will help cover travel costs for the bus for Saturday.
Mitchell, who is in his second year teaching at Cedar Ridge, hopes that this performance will show the growth in the Cedar Ridge Theater department. He has also taught at the North Carolina Governor’s School for the past seven years.
“We are really starting to grow from where we were at,” he said. “I’m looking forward to building a very robust program here that really focuses on the ensemble and the experience of the students and the characters. I think and hope that will come across in the production, how much they really enjoy speaking to each other and not just sitting in the spotlight in their moment.”