Spoiler alert: If you’re a judge for this weekend’s one-act competition in Two Harbors, you might want to stop reading this article now.
Minnesota State High School League one-act competition rules state that “At all levels before the State Festival, no information shall be given (to the judges) to identify the play with the school.” Judges are given the titles and authors of the shows, but no identifying information about the school putting on the production and participants are instructed to not wear any school insignia while on stage.
Who pushed Mrs. Wingfield?
That's the question students in William Kelley's one-act mystery "The Patient" will strive to answer at the 7A subsection contest Saturday, Jan. 25 at Two Harbors High School.
In this Agatha Christie play, a badly injured patient is unable to communicate following a fall from her balcony.
"It's an 'almost' murder mystery," said student Kaisa Robinson, who plays Emmeline Ross, Mrs. Wingfield's sister.
A new medical device helps Mrs. Wingfield communicate and the tension grows as her family members gather and her messages reveal more about how she ended up in the hospital bed.
"It’s from a collection of three plays by Agatha Christie called 'The Rule of Three.' They’re the only one-acts she wrote," said student Allison Kaiser, who plays Dr. Ginsberg in the production. "I’ve never done a mystery before, so I like the dynamic of everyone trying to confuse the audience. Everyone has to look guilty and suspicious."
Kaiser was one of the students who helped pick the play this fall. New director Daren Blanck wanted to get student input before choosing which play they'd perform for this competitive form of theater.
"We read through a number of one-acts. Among those folks who had participated before, there was a desire to do something that was a little bit of a change-up," Blanck said. "We had auditions to figure out who would play what character more than anything else."
New director steps in
Blanck is relatively new to the Silver Bay area, but not to theater. He was a student of the Guildford School of Acting in the United Kingdom and directed community and school theater in the Pequot Lakes area for 22 years.
Now he's a part-time teacher at William Kelley and part-time pastor at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte. When usual one-act director Katie Fritz took a step back from the program to spend more time with her new baby, Blanck stepped up.
"It's been fun to get back into it," Blanck said.
How does one-act work?
It’s slightly different than a regular play production, mostly due to the competition aspect. There are many strict regulations to keep the competition fair.
The basic rules are that the play must be performed in 35 minutes or less; the set must be portable and fit within a 10-by-10-foot square before the performance and moved onto the stage in 10 minutes or less. If these and a few other regulations are not met, the play is disqualified from the competition.
The plays are judged on criteria from set design, to staging movement, to acting quality.
"It's kind of subjective," Blanck said. "So I like to think of it more as a festival. The fun part is performing, and if the judges like it, great. If not, that's fine too."
Saturday’s competition at the Two Harbors High School auditorium will consist of several plays running from 8:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. The order of the plays is unknown at press time.
"The best part of the one-act festival is getting to see everyone else’s plays," Kaiser said.
The two highest-ranking plays will move on to the sectional competition Saturday, Feb. 1, at Aitkin High School.
There will also be a public performance at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24 at William Kelley High School auditorium prior to the competition on Saturday. Admission is a suggested donation of $5.