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AHS thespians fare well at regionals

If all goes well, the laughs will only start to die down by the time Ella Stringer gets to the bird-killing bit.

Stringer, 17, an Ashland High senior, is one of six AHS actors who scored in the top 10% at a regional competition earlier this month to earn a spot in the state competition April 2-4 at the Salem Conference Center and Historic Elsinore Theatre in Salem. She’ll perform back-to-back contrasting monologues in the Experienced Solo Acting category, a demanding set that requires her to quickly pivot from a comedic skit playing a mischievous thespian to a dark one playing a tormented student who takes her anger out on a bird.

The AHS drama program was also honored as a whole when its production of “Urinetown” was selected to close the festival, marking the eighth time an Ashland full-length show has been picked and the first since “Radium Girls” in 2016.

“A giant honor, yes,” said Betsy Bishop. AHS’s theater and English teacher and theater producer, “because out of, I don’t know, 40 schools our school was chosen. Now we have to get it all up and put the whole set in a semitruck and go up to Salem and put all the musicians in hotels overnight. It’s a really giant expense, but it’s totally fun because then they do the show for 1,500 thespians.”

Bishop said the program must raise $6,000 to cover expenses. The actors will host an “On Our Way to State” showcase at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Mountain Avenue Theatre, 201 S. Mountain Ave., during which the state qualifiers will perform monologues, scenes and musical theater solos. Tax-deductible donations can be made at ashlandschoolsfoundation.org and by calling 541-482-8197.

Also qualifying for solo or duo state events for Ashland High were Henry Alexander, Keagen Brooks-Torres, Gwyn Murphy Cunningham, Allie Poole and Brooklyn Williams. Stringer and Evan Heintz also ranked in the top 15% in Solo Musical at regionals, good enough to earn a ribbon but just short of the state qualification standard.

Poole and Williams both qualified for state in two separate categories. They teamed up to qualify in Duo Musical for their performance of “The End of the Line,” while both qualified for Solo Musical — Poole for her performance of “Changing My Major to Joan” and Williams for her rendition of “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.”

The southern region competition, which included about 550 performers, was held Feb. 1 at Central High School in Independence. Twenty-five actors represented AHS there, including Stringer, who said she has only a few moments to gather herself during a solo acting performance that consists of two 90-second skits.

In the first, she plays an actress who’s passed up by a rival for the lead role in “Romeo and Juliet” and decides to exact her revenge by dedicating herself to basketball, her enemy’s sport of choice. In the second skit, Stringer plays a bullied girl who loves to watch birds, then kills one in a fit of rage.

“I turn around and I sit down in a chair in the second (skit) so that it’s clear that it’s a transition,” she said. “And something else that I learned is that you have to really use a varying voice. So for my first one I’m super bubbly and up here; and then my second one I take it closer to my chest and focus more on the intense acting. That variance of voice is what shows that you can play a multitude of emotions throughout those three minutes.”

Stringer has only a few seconds to regain her composure about halfway through the performance. That brief pause is crucial, she said.

“I mean, it’s pretty difficult, but I find that if I just take a deep breath and just kind of release those emotions and leave them behind after the first monologue then it kind of prepares me to be more true on the second one, and focused,” she said. “A lot of people do it the other way, where they do the dramatic one first, but I find doing comedic kind of gets that energy out, and then I can release and go more serious on the second one.”

In her Duo Musical performance with Poole, Williams, a 16-year-old sophomore, plays a nerdy, unpopular high school girl who grows up to become beautiful and admired while her best friend (Poole) suffers the opposite fate.

“We got very good reactions (at regionals),” said Williams, who also plays the villain Mr. Cladwell in “Urinetown.”

“We had judges laugh at our piece, which usually doesn’t happen — they usually just sit there with a cold stare, writing things down.”

Reporter Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Ashland High thespians perform "Urinetown" at Mountain Avenue Theatre. AHS will perform the musical at the state theater competition April 4 in Salem. Photo by Denise Baratta.