Northside High celebrates string of theater wins

Northside High celebrates string of theater wins

jmink@macon.comNovember 25, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Brianna Roberson sits behind a desk at Northside High School, swiftly moving a pencil back and forth. Suddenly, she jumps from her desk and bursts into song. Then, the girls around her leave their own desks, kicking their legs in a dance.

For Roberson and nearly 50 other students, it’s just a normal afternoon at the school. The students have spent their evenings rehearsing a musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which recently won first place at the state Class AAAAA One Act Play competition.

In fact, the drama department has such a tradition of winning that the One Act Play contest is now one of the most well-known competitions at Northside and in Houston County.

This year, Perry High School won state in the Class AAAA One Act Play competition, a different division, with “The Taste of Sunrise.”

Northside will host a public performance of its latest musical at 4 p.m. Dec. 8 at the school theater. Admission is $5 or five canned goods. Last year, a performance raised 2,000 pounds of donations for charities.

“When people think of Northside competitions, they think of football and One Act,” drama teacher Brian Barnett said.

The latest win was the school’s fourth state championship in a row. The school’s drama department has won seven out of the past eight state competitions, garnering 18 state championships overall. The school has placed in the competition every year since 1974.

Barnett performed in one of those championship shows as a Northside student in 1985.

“Our strong tradition and the lessons I was taught by Mr. Horne is what it takes,” Barnett said.

The school’s theater is named after its former drama teacher, Ray Horne, who taught Barnett and retired when Barnett took the reins. Barnett credits Horne with building the award-winning drama department, and Barnett never would have predicted that he would fill Horne’s shoes, he said. He recalls one of Horne’s mottoes -- to never hide your talents but share them.

A performer himself, Barnett was asked to help with the school’s spring musicals, a job that eventually morphed into a full-time teaching gig. Now, he’s in his 14th year as the school’s drama instructor.

During a rehearsal, Barnett gathered the students on stage, making them warm up before launching into their performance. He reviewed the rehearsal, giving students instructions and applauding after each number.

Creating a championship performance isn’t easy, especially a One Act performance, he said. During One Act, the performance must be under 55 minutes, including all set and costume changes. Students do almost everything.

They make their props, learn their lines and spend hours and hours rehearsing. Even the costumes are homemade by two local women, who have constructed Northside’s costumes for more than a quarter century.

‘Endless amount of work’

Students rehearse for about eight weeks before the competition, Monday through Saturday. When the competition draws near, students often spend up to eight hours practicing on Saturdays.

“You end up spending more time at the theater than you do your own house or more time rehearsing than you do eating or breathing,” Roberson said. “There’s an endless amount of work that goes into it.”

Roberson, who plays Millie in the musical and won Best Actress, burst into tears when Northside won this year. It clinched a win for every year Roberson has been in high school, she said.

It wasn’t an easy victory. Performers such as Hannah Broeils learned tap dancing in a couple of weeks, and she also changed costumes several times during the production.

William Crouch practiced his lines so often that he caught himself saying them outside of rehearsals, even while having dinner in restaurants, he said.

“As long as I’ve been here, which has been three years, this is probably the most difficult show we’ve done,” actor Alex Oakley said.

For Jennifer Carter, the past few months have been dedicated to painting, constructing and learning how to maneuver props. As a crew member, Carter wanted to use her talents to help bring the production to life, she said.

“I have to make sure that I’m in the right place every time to make the scene happen,” she said. “It’s pretty cool being the one to make the scene. ... It makes the whole picture; it just completes it.”

The musical is more than a competition or even an after-school hobby, Barnett said.

“It gives them confidence. It gives them work ethic. It helps them learn how to work as a team,” he said. “My goal isn’t to create Broadway stars. It’s to create well-rounded individuals.”

Still, Barnett has taught his share of rising stars. Several students have pursued careers in theater. A few of them act in New York City.

A career under the spotlight is the goal for many of Barnett’s current students, including Roberson, who got hooked on theater after watching a performance of “Cinderella” in the fifth grade.

“But I found my passion doing it here,” she said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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