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Union Pines theater students perform “Badger.”

Students from Union Pines and North Moore high schools last week brought back some of the N.C. Theater Conference High School Play Festival’s most coveted awards after putting their shows up against the best dramatic productions that North Carolina’s high schools have to offer,

Over the first two weekends in November, 3,000 students from 87 schools performed 121 plays in eight regional play festivals across North Carolina. The top two plays from each festival earned a 45-minute time slot on the stage at Greensboro College last weekend.

When the curtain came down on the 16th production of the two-day state festival, Union Pines’ production of “Badger” by Don Zolidis was declared Honorable Mention Distinguished Play behind the two winners.

“They’d done a really solid performance of the show, so I felt really good about it,” said Judy Osborne, who directed Union Pines at the state festival for the 15th time in 30 years. “This was the toughest of the state festivals that I’d been to. As far as the quality of the other shows everything that we saw was very, very good.”

A one-act play set in 1944, “Badger” explores the trials and triumphs of a group of Women Ordnance Workers discovering themselves as they stepped into traditionally male jobs in a Wisconsin explosives factory.

The show earned Union Pines accolades for Outstanding Achievement in Ensemble Acting. A Barbizon Design and Production Award for Excellence in Choreography went to students Jasmine Hogan and Savannah Telemeco.

Though she personally considers the ensemble award to be the greatest achievement, Osborne, Union Pines’ longtime theater director, won the C.C. Lipscomb Award for Excellence in Directing — one of the top two directing honors at the state festival.

“This show is a really nice blend of the ensemble type of show, which means that you’ve got a group of people performing all sorts of scenes and effects throughout the show,” said Osborne.

“In our show they are the Women Ordnance Workers who are in the crowd scenes. They are the women voting about whether or not to strike, they are the women in the dance scene, they are the women who are at the machines in the factories and you see them pantomiming to create the world of the factory.”

On stage, Carson Meyers played Timothy, a munitions worker partially disabled by polio. But behind the scenes, he adopted the persona of a news reader, writing and recording a series of voice-overs used in the production. For that, he earned a Barbizon Award for Outstanding Achievement in Design and Production for Audio Recording and Sound Design.

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Union Pines theater students perform “Badger.”

On the day after the State Play Festival, the N.C. Theater Conference organizes a scholarship fair of sorts for theater students. After watching the festival, representatives from theater departments at colleges around the state conduct auditions and interview students. At the end of the day, Meyers had the offer of a $60,000 scholarship from Catawba College.

Senior Liz Ferelli won one of five Excellence in Acting awards granted to female actors for her portrayal of Grace, an 18-year-old with dreams of Hollywood who eventually falls in love with Irene, one of her fellow WOWs.

North Moore’s “Push and Pull” by Terry Gabbard was the final show on Nov. 21, the festival’s first day. The play chronicles the life of a struggling comic book artist as it’s transformed after he unwillingly adopts a dog named Push.

The annual NCTC play festival comes with a unique challenge: preparing the set, performing a play, and clearing the stage within 45 minutes. Despite a mishap with the set, North Moore theater director Kimberly Fielder-Jones said that the students put forward one of their best performances.

“We felt very good about it,” she said. “It’s always hard to adjust on a stage that’s not your home stage, and we had some difficulties with our set but the kids handled it well.”

North Moore won one of 10 Theater Arts awards, which judges base on the exemplary qualities of the plays before them, for soundtrack creation. Fielder-Jones said that the students collaborated to choose popular songs like “You Broke Up With Me” by Walker Hayes and John Legend’s “All of Me” to suit the evolution of the protagonist’s interpersonal relationships.

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North Moore High School students perform "Push and Pull."

“The theater arts awards are things that really stand out to the judges. If they’re watching a show and they remember something from it, then they’ll give a theater arts award for it,” said Fielder-Jones. “The challenge was finding music that set the mood for each transition of the show that went along with our slides. Each song set the mood during the transition to the next scene.”

While the action of the play focuses on individual episodes from the artist’s life, the passage of time is shown through projections of original artwork by Zoie Jones. That artwork landed North Moore its second award from the state festival: the Barbizon Design and Production Award for Excellence in Original Comic Artwork.

The winners of the state festival, Sanderson High and Watauga High, both performed “Ernest and the Pale Moon.” They will represent North Carolina at the Southeastern Theater Conference convention in Kentucky in 2020. In the event that one of those schools is unable to go, Union Pines will have the chance to compete.

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