Every year, Texas theatre troupes head to the International Thespian Society Conference. At the conference, students from schools all over Texas come to compete in different areas in hopes of advancing to nationals. Texas Thespians is a state group that organizes a yearly conference where students can attend workshops, see other high school productions, and compete with scenes, songs, or individual performances.
Senior Aaliyah Carter and junior Kieran Wylie, members of Viking Theatre and officers of thespian troupe 3463, chose a duet scene from the show Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire to memorize, practice, and perform for competition. After a painful wait, their performance was given a superior ranking, earning them a spot in the national competition.
“I’m so excited, even though it’s virtual,” Kieran said. “We didn’t get to perform at Nationals last year even though we qualified but this year we do, and we’re thankful and lucky for that.”
Last year, every submission for the competition from Viking Theatre advanced to Nationals, but unfortunately the pandemic ruined those plans. As the only BHS students advancing this year, the two actors acknowledge their nerves and pressure to do well as a part of each performance.
“Overall, the nerves are still there,” Aaliyah said. “We found it harder to compete virtually because of that factor of ‘was this the right take’ because we can do this over and over again but then finally stop yourself to say ‘Okay. This is enough, we don’t need to run it any more’.”
The thespians competition is being carried out differently than last year. The competition still happened, though actors now had to submit their performances via recorded video.
“The process wasn’t really too different,” Kieran said. “We had masks on and everything, so that wasn’t too big of a deal, but it was definitely a little weird because you act with the bottom half of your face more often than not. You now have to personify that even more through your eyes. It’s a difficult thing to do, to take all of the emotion and diction that’s coming from your mouth and put it into the upper half of your face. The upper half of your face isn’t made to do that. We had to overcome and adapt.”
Actors are judged on voice, body, projection, self-investment, and believability, the last of which is their primary focus. Theatre teacher Bailey Robert coached Kieran and Aaliyah’s for their competition scene. She helped them find a scene that would suit their personalities and acting strengths, helped them find the blocking and rehearse it together a few times, and coached them through the highs and lows of the scene.
“The scene deals with some intense material,” Robert said. “It deals with the loss of a child, and they handle the maturity of the characters and the depth of the heartbreak really well and believably, which I think stands out among high school performers. They kept the intensity throughout, but also found levels in the performance that would draw the judge and audience members in.”
Robert’s coaching is well-received and effective for both Kieran and Aaliyah, as they have expressed gratitude for their director.
“Robert is amazing,” Aaliyah said. “I love her so much. She’s always willing to help, she gives us notes, and she’s not afraid to be blunt which is good, because as an actor, we need to be told what we’re doing wrong in order to improve. She
has a really cool dynamic with Mr. Justice on how they like to work with each other and direct us. Overall, they put on amazing performances and they train actors well.”
Most of all, the two appreciate each other as scene partners and enjoy the dynamic they have created together.
“I love working with Kieran because he gets so into the roles that he does,” Aailyah said. “He’s not afraid to go all out and really put his heart into every single performance, so in choosing him to be my scene partner I knew I was making a great choice. He makes acting with him really easy and fun, and reacting to him is such a joy and we work well together.”
A large goal such as competition takes practice and experience. Viking Theatre has classes for all aspects of theatre, not just acting. A theatre class isn’t necessarily just for acting, it’s all the other things around it that help bring it together.
“One of the best parts of theatre is the growth we see from the start to the very end,” Aaliyah said. “If you were to tell my freshman self that I’d be here my senior year, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s such an art and a growing process. Theatre is an amazing way to express yourself with your body, voice, and the emotions that get portrayed. You’re able to talk about real situations or transport to a story world, all within these walls. It’s really beautiful when everyone who is so unique just comes together to put out something amazing for the world.”
Bryan High has an expansive theatre program, and wants the best for those who excel at performing.
“I think theatre is beneficial for everyone to engage with, whether performing or as an audience member,” Robert said. “It teaches students how to be confident in front of people, whether they are acting or giving a speech or a presentation at work. It teaches them how to collaborate and work with other people on a team, often people that are very different from them. It makes students have to problem solve and use creativity throughout the process, and I think acting helps them think on their toes.”
Kieran and Aaliyah read the entire play to get a feel of the tension that would build up before and during the scene. The hard work they put into their scene is part of the integral theatre experience for them.
“There’s a saying we have: ‘There is magic in the theatre and the theatre is magic, and by magic we mean hard work,” Kieran said. “I think the word magic encompasses the process completely. All the sweat and tears and sometimes blood that’s put into making the show and seeing what we have made is really magic.”