CATA theater students win state competition

Dec. 10, 2013 @ 05:53 PM

Students from Central Academy of Technology and Arts won the state title for their play “The Parchman Hour.”

They will next compete in March at the South Eastern Theater Conference (SETC) in Alabama. 

The Parchman Hour, written by Mike Wiley, is about the Freedom Riders in 1961 and their time spent in the Parchman Farm prison. 

Theater teacher Larry Robinson learned about the play at a theater conference over the summer and decided to perform it without having read the script. 

“The more I heard, the more mesmerized I became with the story,” Robinson said. “I knew, without a doubt, that I had to do this show. It did not matter that I hadn’t read it.” 

Wiley attended the state conference and met with the students. Robinson said their performance brought him to tears. 

The students performed last on the first of two days of performances. Robinson said they received a standing ovation from the entire audience when the performance ended. It was the first show of the day to receive that reaction. 

“It was quite an awesome experience for them,” Robinson said. 

They will represent North Carolina in the conference in Alabama, which, Robinson said, is significant for multiple reasons. 

“One of our goals when we set out to do this show, knowing that if we were to win the state we would be going to SETC in Alabama, which means that when we travel to SETC we will be on a bus, blacks and whites sitting together, following the path of the original Freedom Riders,” Robinson said. “There’s going to be a lot of symbolism in that journey.” 

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This is the school’s second state title in three years. In 2012, they went to the southeastern conference with their performance of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange. They won several awards at the conference that year.

“Our goal this time is to come back with the top award,” Robinson said. 

It will cost around $15,000 to take the students to Alabama, roughly $500 per student. Robinson is hoping to raise funds between now and March to lessen the financial burden for the students. 

The students will likely perform it again in March. 

“It is a really powerful piece,” Robinson said. “The story needs to be told...these kids do an outstanding job in telling the story, I could not be any more proud of them.” 

Robinson said the students did not initially understand the impact the show would have because it was a different time for them. Once they saw the effect the show was having, they worked hard to research their roles and tell their stories, Robinson said. He said one of the adjudication sheets noted that the students clearly understood the text, understood what it was they were saying and what their story was. 

“The Parchman Hour” received the Distinguished Play (Audience Choice) award. In addition, Samantha Jackson received the Outstanding Achievement in Acting-Female award, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe received the Excellence in Acting- Female award, David Moburg and Elijah Inuwa received the Excellence in Student Design and Production award for musical arrangements and Chapin Silberquit received the Excellence in Student Design and Production award for projection design. 

In addition, Claire Ave’Lallemant from Porter Ridge High School received the Theatre Arts Award for excellence in direction and the Excellence in Student Design and Production award for direction for “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Porter Ridge’s performance also won the Excellence in Ensemble Acting award.