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One-act festival sets the stage

Woodbury High School’s 2014 one act play is William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” (Submitted photo) 1 / 2
East Ridge High School’s 2014 one act play is “Failure: A Love Story.” (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Even though high school one act plays are billed as competitive theater – there is a one act competition through the Minnesota State High School League – there’s a lot more to it than that.

“Yes, it’s a competition,” said Josh Campbell, East Ridge High School one act director. “But, in the end, it’s more about learning and discovering and growing.”

All District 833 high schools will be showcasing what they’ve learned this winter on Jan. 24 when Woodbury, East Ridge and Park high schools come together for the District 833 One Act Play Festival.

During the festival, which will be 6:30 p.m. at the Loft Stage at East Ridge, all three schools will perform their one act plays for this year’s competition.

“This is a great way to perform and not have it be a cutthroat competition,” Campbell said.

“It’s really a chance to just see what each other is working on,” said Tyler Olsen, WHS one act director. “During the competition you really don’t have that chance to see what other schools are doing and learn from other schools.” 

East Ridge will be performing “Failure: A Love Story,” WHS will be performing “Macbeth” and Park will perform “The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It.”

Competitive theater

Minnesota schools compete in one act competitions where there are rules and judges choose which school gets to move on to the next round of competitions.

All three District 833 high schools will compete in the preliminaries Jan. 28-29 at Eagan High School.

Plays are judged on a number of different criteria including: physical characterizations, vocal characterizations, technical elements, educational value, and overall effectiveness of ensemble.

Plays must also follow a set of rules that include time limits, number of cast members and set.

“What’s interesting about the one act is that it really makes you bring out creativity because you’re so restricted,” Campbell said. “I’m excited to see how everyone gets creative with those restrictions.”

Whereas Campbell said the biggest challenges of the competition are the time restraints and traveling with the technical components, Olsen said he feels performing at another school proves to be a challenge.

“You have to go and perform on somebody else’s turf,” he said, “so that’s a completely unique environment.”

Additionally, Olsen said the competition side adds a unique element to the audience.

“The audience isn’t going because they want to see a show,” he said, “they’re going because it’s a competition.

“Because of that, they’re going to be stingy with their laughter and their reactions, which can be a little unnerving.”


Olsen said he decided on William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” because many of the English classes at WHS are currently studying it.

Plus, it offered up unique opportunities for students.

“There’s a lot of room for imagination,” Olsen said. “It’s a really great opportunity for high schoolers to be real nasty people.”

“Macbeth” is about Macbeth’s bloody rise to power, with help from his wife Lady Macbeth.

Olsen said WHS’ version of “Macbeth” will be different than what audiences may have seen in the past since the school is staging it in an untraditional way.

“It won’t be set in medieval times, it won’t be in a realistic setting,” he said. “We’re staging it through the lens of ritual and the supernatural element of it all – a lot of darkness, a lot of shadows.”

Olsen said WHS’ version of “Macbeth” will stand out among the one act competition because of its uniqueness.

“Shakespeare has really laid a nice foundation for the show,” he said, “but what we’ve done is petty unique.

“This is Shakespeare like people haven’t seen before.”

’Failure: A Love Story’

“Failure: A Love Story” opens with the audience learning that the three Fail sisters, who live in a rickety two-story building by the Chicago River in 1928, have died.

The play progresses to tell the stories of how each of the three sisters died.

“There’s no secret that they’re going to die, but at the end you really feel for these people and are sad that they are gone,” Campbell said. “It’s a very fun piece that’s all about storytelling.”

Campbell said he selected “Failure: A Love Story” as this year’s one act for East Ridge because it offered some unique learning opportunities for students: All of the actors portray anywhere from one to six characters – including a narrator.

“You have to be creative with it,” he said. “The nature of the storytelling is very different.”

Campbell said he assigned each of his actors the task of developing backstories and characteristics of each of the characters they play.

“It’s a really great learning piece,” he said.

Campbell said he believes the creative storytelling, and minimal set, will set “Failure: A Love Story” apart from the competition.

Campbell and Olsen said they are excited to showcase their plays during the District 833 One Act Festival.

“I’m very excited to see the other pieces and how they overcome these obstacles that we all have,” Campbell said. “It’ll be nice to have a dry run before the competition.”

The District 833 One Act Festival will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 at East Ridge High School’s Loft Stage. Tickets are $5.