Photo courtesy of Eric St. John.
Max Johnson and Macey Rowland, foreground, perform in Spain Park High School’s original one-act play “Pals.”
The theater department at Spain Park High School won best in show for the fourth year in a row for their one-act play at the statewide Walter Trumbauer Secondary Theatre Festival.
The school also had three students win first place in the state for their individual events, while one captured second place and four others took third.
“I’ve got some great kids, some hard-working kids,” said Spain Park theater teacher Eric St. John, who was named the Alabama Conference of Theatre’s Secondary Teacher of the Year at the same event. “I was very pleased with their performance.”
Spain Park sent a cast and crew made up of 25 students to perform an original one-act play at the state competition at Troy University. The play was called “Pals” and was based on the true story of British men who served in special hastily-formed Army battalions made up of volunteers during World War I.
The idea was that men would be more willing to serve in the military if they could serve alongside people they already knew, so many of the battalions were made up of people from the same communities.
The downside was that many of the Pals battalions lacked proper training and suffered higher numbers of casualties than regular Army battalions. As a result, some towns were decimated, losing large percentages of the men in their communities, St. John said.
“It’s a pretty tragic story,” he said.
The Spain Park students used letters written by World War I soldiers as research and came up with their own script for their play, wrote original music to go with it and sewed their own costumes together, St. John said.
To make the play more authentic, they even learned a Yorkshire dialect. One of St. John’s friends from Samford University who is from Lancashire County, England, worked with the students on the dialect, he said. The students had to listen to Yorkshire recordings at night as homework, he said. The dialect sounds similar to that used by the servants on the popular “Downton Abbey” TV show, St. John said.
Spain Park students competed against 30 other one-act plays in the district competition and 16 shows at the state level, he said.
By winning best in show, they qualified to perform the play at the 2016 Southeastern Theatre Conference but instead chose to seek entry into the Atlanta Fringe Festival.
The students first performed “Pals” at their school in November and plan to do it again in late May. They also are performing two other plays this year: Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” on Feb. 25-28 and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” on May 5-8.
St. John has been teaching theater for 17 years, including 12 in Alabama. This is his fifth year at Spain Park.
Here are the Spain Park students who placed in individual events at the state competition:
► Macey Rowland, first place, varsity solo comedic female musical
► Leah DeBerry, first place, novice playwriting
► Ashley Johnson, first place, novice stage management
► Cassidy Johnson, second place, varsity sound design
► Adam Gilliland and Max Johnson, third place, varsity duet pantomime
► Morgan Gerelds and Lauren Bryan, third place, varsity duet comedic reader’s theatre
► Adam Gilliland and Ethan Parish, third place, varsity duet comedic contemporary acting
► Ben Peinhardt, third place, varsity scene design
Hoover High School also had several individual winners at the state competition:
► Hana Park, first place, novice solo acting female contemporary comedic
► Josh Anthony and Christian Hatcher, second place, novice duet pantomime
► Sara Hardy and Noell Gooch, second place, varsity duet pantomime
► Skylar Thornton and Ashley Kate Otwell, second place, novice duet comedic reader’s theatre
► Gigi McLendon, third place, novice playwriting