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Leave 'em laughing

August 01, 2006|by JUSTIN MARTIN

I walk out on stage, and it all comes back to me. I feel complete joy when I see audience members' attentive faces and see people laugh. It all reminds me of why I act.

I am part of Thespian Troupe 502 at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School. The International Thespian Society is a global association of actors, hosting local and national theater festivals. It all started with a group of teachers in the spring of 1929, in Fairmont, W.Va. Since then, the ITS has helped more than 2 million students fulfill their dreams of acting. The motto of all members is "Act well your part; there all the honor lies."

This year, under the direction of MHS's new theater director, David Ryan, Troupe 502 gathered a cast for a one-act competition play. The play was entitled "The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet" by Peter Bloedel. It was a funny script - basically Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" as if Dr. Seuss had written it.

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When the play was cast, I was skeptical. The actors all had different personalities and for most of them, this would be their first real competition play. In the beginning, the show was, well, boring. The cast was separated and weak; we couldn't pull ourselves together. Egos collided.

But we worked it out. Each person found ways to work with the others. The play came together. We were ready to compete.

We brought this play to our regional competition, involving high school theater troupes from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. There, our play was recognized as one of two outstanding plays. Troupe 502 cast members recognized at the regional competition were Margo Matty and Meagan West (named to the all-festival cast) and Brittany Prather and Elisabeth Curry (honored as best supporting actresses). I received the best actor award. We advanced to the state competition in Charleston, W.Va.

The competition at states looked stiff. Some members of Troupe 502, including me, were nervous. Others remained plenty confident. Each thespian troupe presented their play, and they were all good. I grew more nervous. But the show must go on, so we went on.

It was our best performance. I was fully satisfied when I saw the smiles of the audience.

At state competition, Troupe 502 members earned two trophies - two all-state cast awards given to Raya Smith and myself. But the big thrill was that the judges declared us one of the troupes qualified to go the weeklong International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb., in June.

At the marathon in Nebraska, we saw many amazing plays. And though we were no longer in competition - the event was not a competition but a festival - we were still plenty nervous. The world was going to be staring down our throats.

We preformed in a "black box" theater, where the stage is on level with the audience, that could hold 200 patrons. We played to a full house, and it was our best performance ever.

I feel laughter is a patch - something that connects people, something that makes them forget their troubles and worries, even if for only a short time, and venture into a world apart from their own.

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