Competition cheer officially returned to Emanuel County Institute for the first time in years following a long program hiatus, and the school will soon be able to say the same about its one-act play program after this weekend. The cast, led by coach Dena Walden, will take the stage once for the first time in a very long time on Saturday, October 23, when they travel to Claxton.
In what may come as a surprise to some, one-act play is actually a GHSA sanctioned sport. Like its name implies, one-act play is a play that has only one act, which is different from plays that occur over several acts. However, one-act plays may consist of one or more scenes. These works typically take anywhere from two to 10 characters. Walden says the one-act play season has only one competition, which serves as regionals. That’s this weekend in Claxton for all the marbles as the top two scoring productions will earn a spot at state in November.
“Contrary to what many believe, one-act play has been a part of the GHSA for many years now. This is my first time filling the role as the one-act play coach. This is also the first time in over a decade that ECI has participated in one-act play competition,” she said. “I take this opportunity to coach these kids very seriously because I was in one-act play during my senior year in high school 20 years ago. I believe we were runners-up that year at regional competition, and we secured a spot at state. I know we didn’t place at state, but we did do a great job. It was an experience that I will never forget.”
Thus, when the BOE okayed one-act play to return earlier this year, Walden volunteered to head up the revived sport. ECI held its first interest meeting within the first couple weeks of the 2021-2022 school year. More than 30 kids showed an interest in trying out for roles or working backstage. Auditions were held shortly after this meeting, and three folks who participated in community theatre with the Emanuel Arts Council and the Averitt Center for the Arts came and judged performances.
“I only had to hold auditions for the girls because it was quite a feat to get guys interested in being a part of the production. Those spots were secured fairly quickly, but I knew that the tryouts for the girls would definitely need to happen to give all of them the same advantage to be a part of the play. The judges scored each performance using a rubric. After each girl auditioned, the scores were tabulated, and that is how our female cast was selected. Unfortunately, there were a few who didn’t make the main cast, but they were still very much encouraged to be a part of the production as an alternate actress (simply because of COVID lingering) or to help backstage.”
The final stage cast consists of freshmen Smith Willoughby, Hallie Kate Johnson, Jacorra Tuner, and Allie Rigdon; four juniors, Macie McBride, Braxton Jones, Jay Myers, and Will Taylor; and one senior, Silas Frew. The backstage crew, equally important as Walden sees them as the team’s “lifeline,” includes an honorary stagehand, an eighth grader by the name Makaileigh Handsom; freshmen Clorinda Carillo, Madalyn Jones, and Aaralyn Grimes; and sophomores Aliya McCoy, Amber Harden, Will Sasser, and Alaina Conley. Without this group, ECI one-act play’s sound effects, makeup, costumes, and other vital components could not run smoothly.
The group has been practicing for several weeks now. From the beginning, Walden says the cast and crew have meshed well. One of the most significant aspects of the group she has noticed is how varied the students are who make the entire production run. Some of them are athletes, some are artists, and some are stepping out of their comfort zones to participate in a school activity for the first time.
As a whole, one-act play takes a complete team effort—and this group understands that. According to Walden, all of the participants take initiative to get the job done.
One individual, however, has been integral so far.
“If I had to pinpoint one person in particular who has been a leader, it would have to be the senior of the group, Silas Frew. He has helped build part of the set, and he is always offering advice to the younger cast members,” Walden said. She continued, “He and Braxton Jones have definitely kept us all on our toes, and whoever plans to watch them perform will get a treat and see tremendous comedic timing!”
ECI’s first time performing in front of an audience will actually be the day of its upcoming competition. At that time, they will compete against four other schools (a number that dropped recently from eight); these opponents will include Savannah Classical, Bryan County, Metter, and Claxton. ECI will perform first at 10 a.m. because a handful of cheerleaders have a competition later that afternoon. Right now, the public is allowed to watch these performances that day. For those who can’t make it, ECI hopes to perform their one-act play for the community later next month. Look for details in the near future.
“In my opinion, the one thing that our team needs to do in order to be successful at competition is to keep the train rolling. In other words, don’t stop even if there is a stumble in lines or a line gets dropped. They have to be there for one another, lift the other up, and ad lib if necessary. Most importantly, I want them to have fun. I want them to enjoy this one moment where they can pretend to be somebody completely different without people thinking they’re crazy,” Walden said.
As for what the future holds, she hopes that after this year’s performances, more students at ECI as well as SHS will see how much fun this unique experience can be.
“I hope that this will be a successful rebuilding year for a program that helped make ECI renowned for its one-act plays in years past. ECI has had a long history of athletic passion and dedication. I hope that this will be something that will continue on for many years to come and add more trophies to the case. I also hope that this is something that reaches kids who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to be a part of a team.”