PRC thespians are heading to Kentucky to represent state in competition

Published 2:01 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This is a story about a local thespian troupe, so first, let’s set the stage.

You might think that the best teen-aged, high school actor in Mississippi might reside in Jackson, or Tupelo, or Vicksburg, or some other big city. Actually, he lives in Carriere.

You also might think that the second best high school drama program or thespian group in Mississippi, who will perform in the upcoming Southeastern Theatre Conference competition in Lexington, Ky., and who could win a trip to Scotland, might also reside in some large metropolitan school district and might be a bunch of kids with rich parents.

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You’d be wrong again. The 24-member troupe resides in the Carriere school district.

These talented youngsters need publicity, public support and money.

The Pearl River Central High School Blue Maskers, the school’s troupe of actors, or drama club as some would call the organization, placed second in the state at the recent Mississippi Theatre Festival competition in Tupelo. Oxford High School won first place.

To get to Tupelo, the actors had to win in the regional competition. The Picayune and Pearl River Central drama troupes both won and went to Tupelo for the state competition. Five teams from the north and five from the south went to Tupelo. The troupes were selected from among 35 throughout Mississippi.

When Pearl River Central won second place at Tupelo, it set the stage for this trip to Lexington. The top two troupes get to go to the Southeastern Theatre Conference competition, March 2 through 7. It’s sort of the Super Bowl for high school actors and drama programs in the South.

PRC’s Blue Maskers took another major award in Tupelo: Landon Skipper won the best actor award, playing the father in the troupe’s production of “The Winner.”

Now lets explore the meaning of this award: What it means is that you take all the high schools in Mississippi, who have acting troupes — and that’s a lot — and this award means that Skipper is considered by the judges in this state festival as being the best teen-aged, high school actor in the whole state of Mississippi.

In the acting profession, that’s the equivalent of being the top scorer or MVP for all of Mississippi in the realm of football.

Putting it another way, if this were Broadway, he won an Tony.

Those who have seen the troupe perform “The Winner” say that there is something special about this group of thespians at Pearl River Central this year. They are loaded with talent, and they are dedicated to what they do, say the teachers who work with them.

“They have overcome tremendous obstacles to do what they have done,” says Deborah Craig, the school’s drama teacher, who founded the club in 1993.

Guest director Judy Myers, who is director both of “The Winner” and “The Jungle Book” for Craig this year, says of Skipper, “He has talent from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. If he continues the way he is going, there will be great things for him in the future.”

Skipper is a senior and plans to major in film and theater at UNO when he enters college this fall.

The Blue Maskers are determined to do well at Lexington. They will be competing against 20 other troupes, which are some of the best in the nation. If they win, their next trip will be to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a performance before world judges.

Those who want to see the Blue Maskers in action can do so on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at Resurrection Life Church in Picayune when the troupe will perform a benefit performance of “The Winner.”

Admission is free, but the troupe is asking for a donation to help defray the $17,000 they face in expenses to go to Lexington. The group is also conducting other fund-raisers to help defray the costs.

The PRC school board gave the group $6,000 to kick off the drive at its last meeting.

In addition, those who attend the Feb. 26 performance will get to see the talent that earned the troupe a second place award and which earned Skipper the Best Actor award for the whole state.

Also, attendees will get to see how the show is done during competition. All set pieces, which were constructed by Sid Evans and finished by the students, are off stage. When the performance begins, the set pieces are moved on stage, and at the end of the performance, removed from the stage. All of this has to be done in 45 minutes or less, or the group is disqualified.

The audience also will see the best costumes and scenic designs in the state, and the best dancing performance in the state, when the Dancing Trophies perform during the production. Craig chose original music by Ken Davies of Biloxi for the dance, and Sonnet Hollaway-Amacker choreographed it. The Blue Maskers also won Best Design and Best Costumes in state competition.

To get to where they are now was tough. In Mississippi, only 10 of 35 troupes were selected to perform in Tupelo. Of that 10, Oxford and Pearl River Central were selected to go to Lexington, where they will be competing with 18 troupes from nine Southeastern states.

Also, what makes the Blue Maskers accomplishment even more phenomenal is that they don’t have an adequate stage on which to rehearse. They rehearse in a small room. Even though the drama class is over, they still meet three times a week after school to rehearse, say Craig and Myers.

“Their dedication to what they do, despite the obstacles they face, is truly amazing,” says Myers.

There is an old stage at the McNeill school, but it is inadequate and the wiring is dangerous. They have collaborated some with the Picayune drama program and have been able to rehearse some on the Picayune stage at the Picayune high school auditorium.

“The Winner” was selected by Craig from a Web site, Playscripts, Inc., that features plays. The play is about the obsession America has with winners and winning. The brochure introducing the characters and performers has a quote from Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers and after whom the Lombardi trophy is named, which Drew Brees waved after the Super Bowl, and which carries the inscription, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. Vince Lombardi, 1960.”

The play was written by D. Dwayne Craft, a drama teacher in the Madison, Ala., school system. Craft heard that the Blue Maskers planned a performance of his play in state competition and drove to Tupelo to talk with the cast and to see the performance.

“The kids talked with Craft about each part and how they were playing it, and how he expected it would be played. Their interaction with the playwright was unbelievable. It was an educational and growing experience that I will never forget,” says Myers.

At Resurrection Life on Friday Feb. 26, play goers will see:

The setting: The night before the big event, the competitor has a dream…

The cast (In order of appearance): The Trophies, Ardan Thornhill, Morgan McCormick and Katy McCormick; the Competitor, Patrick Pfalzgraf; The Father, Landon Skipper; The Mother, Patricia Chastain; The Sister, Kyra Baudoin; The Girlfriend, Brie Jordan; The Minister, Nick Kubicki; The Doctor, Jacob Leonard; The Teacher, Rachael Gregson; The Maid, Hillary Stump; The Artist, Taylor Runyan; The Eye Doctor, Kyle Hickman; The Grandmother, Bennie Cooley; The Grandfather, Michael Ledoux; Mistress of Ceremonies, Morgan McManus; Judge Themis, Morgan McCormick; Judge Aphony, Katy McCormick; Judge Mutas, Ardan Thornhill; General Understudy, Cayli Thomas; Lights, Archie Laborde; Special Effects Lighting, Veronica Cooley; Music-Sound, Nick Frierson; Spotlight, Jacob Myers; Stage Manager, Felicia Mitchell; and Programs-Publicity, Deborah Craig.

The play is described as an expressionistic production. Expressionism is an art form in which reality is subjective and viewed through the mind. The term often implies emotional angst. The “winner” struggles with what it really means to be a “winner.”

Those who would like to contribute to this group to help defray expenses call 601-798-1986 at Pearl River Central. Also, contributions can be sent to Pearl River Central Blue Maskers, c/o Pearl River Central High School, 7407 U.S. Hwy. 11 North, Carriere MS 39426. Make checks payable to the Pearl River Central Blue Maskers.

The group will hold a “can shake” on Saturday, Feb. 20, at U.S. Hwy. 11 North and Miss. Hwy. 43 North at the Claiborne Hill intersection.

The Southeastern Theatre Conference in Lexington is billed as the largest theatre conference in the Southeast. This year is the 61st annual convention for the theatre group, and more than 4,000 theatre artists and enthusiasts will gather for the event.

The high school theatre festival will present winners from 10 states from the Southeastern U.S. The top two troupes in each state is selected to go to Lexington, with 20 troupes competing, the website says.

Pearl River Central, along with Oxford, will represent Mississippi.