GREENBELT – Chris Mannino led 24 students from the drama department at Eleanor Roosevelt High School took first place at the Maryland State Thespian Festival, held Jan. 8 and 9 at Tuscarora High School in Frederick. The group competed in the Black Box portion of the event against 23 other schools from around Maryland. The […]
GREENBELT – Chris Mannino led 24 students from the drama department at Eleanor Roosevelt High School took first place at the Maryland State Thespian Festival, held Jan. 8 and 9 at Tuscarora High School in Frederick.
The group competed in the Black Box portion of the event against 23 other schools from around Maryland. The one-act, three-part performance piece, “AP Theater,” focused on the angst of a high school student who incorporates Greek, Bunraku (Japanese puppets) and absurdist techniques into a modern play in order to pass his advanced placement theater test.
“Right away, it was apparent the judges loved it,” said Mannino, theatre teacher and drama sponsor at Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s victory on the Black Box stage automatically qualifies the school’s theatre program for a spot on the festival’s main stage next year.
For their 30-minute performance, Roosevelt also brought home six other top prizes for outstanding staging, vocal work, ensemble work, physical work, pacing in the play and truth in the world.
And they did it with only one week of rehearsal time.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the only Prince George’s County school at the festival, also faced a slew of other obstacles prior to the event. None of the students had ever performed at the festival, and six of the kids who did perform had only limited stage experience.
“We did have some last minute casting changes,” Mannino said. “Some kids couldn’t attend the field trip, ’cause it’s a two-day festival … other kids just got too involved in sports.”
This forced Mannino to thrust the spotlight onto unlikely players to help carry the show.
“This is my first show acting in on a high school level,” said senior Pearl Missen.
As a lighting tech, the 17-year-old is usually the one bringing attention to other actors. During the two-day festival, it was Missen’s performance that ultimately ended up shining.
“One of the judges after our performance actually called me out,” Missen said. “He just really liked the deliverance of my line.”
Another member of the lighting team ended up making her way on stage as well.
“Being able to show that people who don’t act can triumph over people who have been doing it for years is really amazing,” said senior Sara McCarthy.
Mannino said much of the work that carried the theatre program at Roosevelt to this point took place when he first arrived at the school three years ago. Mannino said Roosevelt had a well-known theatre program, even on a statewide level, but still felt the department needed retooling.
He and some of the students’ parents handcrafted a new performance space for the theatre students. Mannino also instituted a more mature curriculum for the classroom.
“We’re doing advanced Stanislavski,” Mannino said, referring to a popular training technique used to help actors convey emotion on stage. “The work we do in two of the classes is college-level work. This is stuff professionals do. This is graduate-level college work, actually.”
Mannino understands this rigorous curriculum helped push the students to victory on the festival.
“I’m just thrilled beyond measure with how much the program has grown and continues to grow,” Mannino said. “I hope we continue to move it in that direction.”