By SHEA STASKOWSKI
Starkville High School drama students are gearing up for the annual North Mississippi Regional Theatre Festival with a public performance tonight.
The 15-member cast will be performing the original play “The Purple Fan,” which is a family-oriented, light-hearted Chinese folk comedy about a beggar boy who digs up a ghost and a purple fan. The findings lead to a series of hysterical events in an effort to find the lost prince of China.
“I like it because it’s an original piece,” said Mandy Kinney, SHS drama director. “Because it is a folk tale, we did have to do research on everything from how to pronounce a certain word to the proper color for fabrics for the time.”
For the festival, which will be held in McComas Hall on Mississippi State’s campus Friday, Dec. 3, Kinney works each year to bring a different type of story to the competition.
Last year, SHS students performed the show “Almost, Maine,” which was comprised of several short vignettes centered around the theme of love. The year before that, the thespians performed a version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which is known for it’s dark and eerie plot.
“We do lots of variety with our shows,” sophomore Akane Little said. “’Almost, Maine’ was a very realistic love story, and this year is an over-the-top comedy for children.”
“Our diversity is what makes us so good,” fellow sophomore Elizabeth Underwood added. “People can’t really guess what we’ll do (for the competition) because it’s always so different.”
Sometimes, that diversity results in nerves for Kinney.
“I’m always nervous because if we were competing with a sport, we’d all be doing the same thing, but how do you put something like (“The Purple Fan”) up against Shakespeare?” Kinney asked. “But as long as it’s executed well, I know they’ll deliver.”
Kinney is also experiencing nerves because this year’s cast is made up almost entirely of underclassmen, which is a rare event for the accomplished drama department. “For a lot of these kids, this is the first time at festival,” Kinney explained. “But they’ve been working so well together. They’re like a well-oiled machine.”
But regardless of the genre, the SHS’s theatre troupe always walks away from the festival competition well-decorated with awards. Last year, “Almost, Maine” earned the group a superior play rating, peer’s choice award, best supporting actor and actress, best main actress and a pass to the state competition.
SHS will be competing against 18 other theatre troupes from the north region of the state. The top five teams, as voted on by the judges, will advance to the state competition held in Meridian the weekend of Jan. 13, 2011. The group has a long history of getting passed to the state competition, but no actor in the group has ever been to the southeastern competition, which is the next step after the state level.
“It’s a goal we’ve been working towards every year,” Little explained of the southeastern competition.
“If we make it, we’ll get to compete against community theaters, which would be the highlight of our high school acting careers,” Underwood added.
In an effort to execute the best show possible during the competition, Kinney holds a public performance the week of the competition to help the cast work out any kinks in the system. “We want people here so we can get used to an audience,” Little explained.In addition to having to impress the judged with their show and talent, the thespians must also adhere to strict festival guidelines. The entirety of the set, including props, must fit into a box small enough for the troupe to carry on and off stage together.
Each troupe will have exactly 45 minutes to walk on the stage with their box, unload the box, set the stage, perform the show, take down the set, put it back into the box and exit the stage. Since all props and stage sets must fit inside the box, Kinney experimented with a different form of set this year, which is made entirely of people.
“My favorite part is what we do with the set,” sophomore Jack Bryan said. “There are always people on stage, but they aren’t speaking. Some are being trees, one person is a boulder... It’s really cool.”
“They can expect a lot of laughs, and there are multiple morals,” Little said.
“This type of theatre is new to audiences. It’s something they haven’t probably seen before,” Underwood said. “I think with every character there is a moral to the story that audiences can look forward to.”
The public performance will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the SHS theater. Tickets are $5 to help offset the cost of performing in the competition.