Parker Quimby, a junior at Windham High School, has been busy working on his character – but not in the moral sense.

Quimby portrays famous playwright William Shakespeare in the school drama club’s upcoming one-act play, “Drop Dead, Juliet,” and he said it’s a big change from his usual role as a “comedic sidekick.”

“Shakespeare is regal, prudish, snotty,” Quimby said. “He just wants to get his play back on track. I had to work to (be) that character.”

Quimby said the one-act play will be performed at the regional level of the Maine Drama Festival, a play competition involving high school students held in March. The play, said Quimby, offers the students more opportunities than the annual musical production to “focus on the acting and find your character and work off each other (as an ensemble).”

Bonny Eagle and Gray-New Gloucester high schools will also compete in the drama festival at different locations in the region. The top regional one-acts from around Maine – chosen by a panel of three judges – will go on to compete at the state level in late March. The festival involves approximately 80 schools and is organized by the Maine Principals’ Association.

Windham High School, which is hosting one of the regional competitions March 5 and 6, will be performing “Drop Dead, Juliet” – a comedic spoof on Shakespeare’s famous love story written by Allison Williams – on home turf at the Windham Performing Arts Center. The public can see it ahead of the competition on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Feb 28, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

In the play, Juliet (played by Lana Pillsbury) decides she doesn’t want to die at the end of the story. So, in the spirit of the times, she takes back her narrative – literally – and convinces Shakespeare to rewrite the play.

Andrew Shepard, the student-director who works alongside teacher and director Rob Juergens, said students are involved in the show in all capacities.

“The entire production team is students,” Shepard said. “The music is written by students, the choreography and blocking is worked on by the students. And it’s a great learning experience for students to develop their acting skills.”

As part of the competition, students must move their entire set on and off the stage in under five minutes.

The rules of the competition govern the length of the play (maximum of 40 minutes), the size of the set pieces (must fit through a standard-size door), as well as the amount of time the cast has to erect and take down their set.

Rick Osann, director of Bonny Eagle’s one-act production, said when the students perform their show for the public this weekend in preparation for the competition, “the setup and (take-down) of the set are part of the performance. We hold up a big stopwatch to include the audience in the timing. It’s almost as much fun as the play.”

Bonny Eagle will also perform a Shakespeare adaptation, a mix of tragedy and comedy called “Free Will,” by Billy Aronso. The story involves 10 of Shakespeare’s “most well-known characters stranded on a deserted island by a now-senile Prospero” from “The Tempest,” according to Osann.

The set for “Free Will,” which was constructed by the high school’s Stagecraft class, “presents an abstracted version of Prospero’s deserted island in the form of a hand with 12-foot-tall fingers,” said Osann.

To fit through the standard-size door and onto the competition stage, Osann said, the 12-foot “fingers” are tipped sideways and carried by two people.

Eric Walker, director of Gray-New Gloucester’s festival entry, said although students need to be aware of the festival rules, “I try to emphasize having fun and giving a quality performance.”

Walker said when the students practice loading the set on and off the stage, “we try to replicate the conditions that will be present at the host site. I do this so the kids will be comfortable with the procedure and be focused on their performance.”

Walker’s students will be performing “15 Reasons Not to be in a Play” by Alan Haehnel, a series of comedic sketches that feature 15 actors in various roles, telling audience members why they shouldn’t be in a play.

The set is minimal, but effective, according to Walker, and consists of boxes, stairs and platforms that are moved about the stage to create different scenes.

As in Windham and Bonny Eagle, Walker said the students take the reins of the one-act.

“(The students) build sets and paint, find the costumes and props (and) they do all the lighting and sound effects,” he said.

Osann said the one-act competition is “a terrific learning experience, with the students seeing nine quality performances of plays. We routinely travel (to the competition site) with 30 to 40 students, often with casts of 25 or more students.”

The Windham students agreed they were all looking forward to seeing the other schools’ shows, and all said the one-act is more about fun than competition.

“Of course, we want to win” conceded Pillsbury, Windham’s Juliet. “But it’s really fun to just see other shows put on by high schools and meet new people and make new friends.”

A CLOSER LOOK

Before the official one-act competition kicks off March 4-5, local high schools will hold public performances of their plays.

Windham High School will perform “Drop Dead, Juliet” at the Windham Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb 28, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Bonny Eagle High School will perform “Free Will” at the high school auditorium on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Gray-New Gloucester High School will perform “15 Reasons not to be in a Play” at the high school auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m.

Lake Region High School is not competing this year.

The cast of Windham’s “Drop Dead, Juliet,” during a Feb. 22 rehearsal. Lana Pillsbury, who plays Juliet, said the biggest challenge of the one act is “getting everyone to focus when their hectic schedules get in the way…but everyone is very committed.” Will Wheaton, left, plays Romeo to Lana Pillsbury’s Juliet, at right. Wheaton and castmate Anna Giroux were members of the 2015 All Festival Cast, an award for outstanding performances. It was all-hands-on-deck at rehearsal for Windham High School’s one-act play. Lexie Jordan, back, painted the set while Lana Pillsbury, left, and Anna Giroux, right, rehearsed a scene in which Juliet (Pillsbury) has a spat with her mother (Giroux). 


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