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MISSION — Members of the Veterans Memorial High School Harlequin Drama Club huddled together after school on Monday, preparing for a run of their UIL One Act Play entry, “The Circus Animals Desertion.”
After winning district, the group has advanced to the area level of competition being held at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi tomorrow.
At the district competition, the complete cast received awards, which was a first for the club. Anna Olivarez was named best actress, Alex Hinojosa received best actor and all-star cast honors went to: Katharyn Rodriguez, Beto Cantu, Kimberly Stuart and Karina Gamboa.
Honorable mention all-star cast were: Esai Garcia, Micaela Cantu, Emily Cantu, Sara Olivarez, Marisol Cervantes, Clarissa Garza, Jorge Ortiz and Carlos Tello.
Gamboa said she was very excited to win and was in shock that she received an award her first year in the competition. Freshman Clare Garza said she has enjoyed the competition thus far.
“I really enjoy it; it’s different,” Garza said. “I like watching the different plays and comparing them to ours.”
“The Circus Animals Desertion,” set in the 1940s, is a creepy tale of a 16-year-old girl, Becky Armitage, who always seems to run into trouble. The young girl is excited when the carnival comes to her town, but finds herself seduced and pregnant by carnival worker, Romeo.
When her beau leaves town, Armitage is left to raise the child alone. The girl finds a home and a father figure in the town librarian, Albert Reedy. The librarian is a great deal of help with the child, but after the carnival returns for its annual visit, Armitage becomes pregnant with a second child.
The librarian is filled with a lustful, intense rage that turns the play into a grim tale.
Sophomore Alex Hinojosa plays the disgruntled librarian and said he was overjoyed when the play was chosen. His fellow drama club members said he nearly cried when he received the news.
“I love this play so much. There is just something so original about it,” Hinojosa said. “It is like watching an eerie Tim Burton film come to life on stage.”
Hinojosa explained he spent hours researching his role, and also contacted the author of the play for the motivation of the character.
“We talked about it and we think it’s a mix of Jack Nicholson in the Shining because of the librarian, Rosemary’s Baby because of the pregnancy and Hannibal Lecter,” director and drama instructor James Hodgson said.
In the UIL One Act Play competition there are four levels to advance through before making it to the state level, which include zone, district, area and the regional level. With the team this far into the UIL competition, Hodgson said the group is looking to take their acting to the highest level possible.
“We don’t look at the Valley level of competition to set our sights to go higher. We have to raise them up to what they are going to face and better,” Hodgson said. “You don’t want to leave it in the judges’ hands and let them think ‘Which one am I going to take?’ No, you want to be overwhelmingly, decisively good.”
UIL One Act Play has a strict set of rules that guide the competition; drama groups are only allowed seven minutes to put up a full set, and one minute to start their show. The play cannot run over 40 minutes, and after the show the group has seven minutes to tear down their set.
Each group is only allowed 10 minutes of music and may include 15 actors and five crewmembers. Hodgson explained they have multiple props and decorations for the set that include portable lighting instruments and a large painted canvas.
The practice schedule for the club has been three hours a day since January.
Since the end of the 2012 school year, Hodgson searched for the perfect play since.
“I read 20 to 40 plays, plus the ones I already know and have in my mind to make a choice based on what we have and what we can become,” he said. “Choosing the right people to play the right parts, and the play that fits your cast is the greatest challenge. If you can do that, the rest is a little easier.”
Hodgson said this year’s cast is anchored by seniors like Anna Olivarez who plays Armitage. She still gets nervous even after her four years with the Harlequin Drama Club.
“My stomach starts to hurt, I’m always nervous,” Olivarez said. “I think it is a good thing to be nervous though, it fuels the fire.”
Crewmember Karla Gastel said every member of the group prepares for the competition in their own unique way.
“There are some people that will sit down and zone out and others get together in a group and pray,” she said. “But once you are on stage and you set up, you kind of get into a mode of ‘We can do this; let’s do the best job we can do and leave it all out there.’”
Hodgson said the students have a good attitude and understand they can’t control the judge’s decisions; all they are able to do is do the best they can and hope to advance to the next level of competition.
While freshmen are just starting the journey, seniors are enjoying the few months they have left with the club. Senior Beto Cantu, who plays Romeo, said he plans on enjoying the ride of the competition and making memories.
The production has a total of three directors Irma Bazan, Joe Hernandez and Hodgson. Five crewmembers compete with the cast, which include: Katian Lopez, Andrea Garcia, Jaime Bazaldua, Jeselle Farias and Gastel.
The four alternates who are on standby are Alex Hernandez, Brittany Bazaldua, Debahni Cespedes and Miranda Moreles.
“We don’t aim to get certain awards, or to be recognized a certain way,” Gastel said. “As long as we know we did a great job, that we did the best play we could have ever done. We left it there on the stage and showed everyone what we were capable of doing.”
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