A weekend in High School Wonderland

High school theatre director Ron Parker sets high standards in his productions. Period costumes must conform to the time period. Period.

Lighting. Sound. Set design. Blocking. Elocution. Make-up. Hair.

He envisions each element, solicits input from his cast and crew, and then oversees the installation of each nail, the stroke of each paint brush.

These details meld so magically that, as was the case this weekend at the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival, the fictional theatre inspires genuine drama when people race to secure a coveted spot in the audience.

I heard shouts of, “make a hole!” and witnessed near fisticuffs as feisty fans elbowed their way to seats and theatre directors from competing schools instructed their own students to do whatever they could to find a spot in the theatre.

The theatre filled swiftly and house managers firmly turned away a large crowd of people, many of whom had waited 45 minutes or more. The performance proved worthy of the pre-show drama as North’s rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland garnered a 17th straight Critic’s Choice award, the highest honor, along with awards in directing, technical crew, and ensemble acting.

Those awards speak to the quality of a Ron Parker production. As a lucky chaperone on this three-day event, I can speak to the quality of the students whose character development transcends the stage.

I saw prop manager Drake Schneider smile warmly as a student from a competing high school accidentally knocked the official list of awards off its easel.

“Oh My God!” she said. “I can’t believe I did that.”

“Don’t worry,” he said as he bent his tall frame down to pick it up and replace it. “It could happen to anyone.”

The students broke curfew on the opposite end of the day, rising extra early to slip out and have a snowball fight, or to grab a quick swim in the hotel pool.

A perfectionist in his own productions, Mr. Parker works equally hard to instill in his students an appreciation for the talents of other area high schools.

I saw him approach Middleton High School cast members of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, an excellent showcase performance. He complimented them specifically and their faces lit up.

Conversation among North students throughout the weekend centered on the great shows they saw other schools perform. They expressed outrage at the scarcity of awards for Middleton High School and its production of the Last Illusion, rather than glee at their own impressive haul.

Appleton North’s layered production of Alice in Wonderland was a lovely, lovely show, well-deserving of its lingering standing ovation and awards.

In the rabbit hole of high school, with all the crazy characters and tender egos dwelling there, it’s even more important to recognize what Appleton North High School, the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival, and, most of all, Director Ron Parker accomplish off stage — an appreciation and celebration of the unique talents that exist outside the walls of one’s own school.

Parker workshop
In addition to attending the best one act shows in the state, Wisconsin High School Theatre Festival attendees also can take part in workshops. Here Mr. Parker conducts a workshop in stage combat in which all the combatants have died. Just kidding. He is coaxing them in stage movement, which starts with a pretty thorough warm up of the muscles.
Molly and the doors
At one point in the very creative show, Molly and her fellow narrators Jaya, Sid, and Maddy play doors. They had some fun with that by using “door” in the nicknames on their cast shirts — Sis-door, A-Door-Able, Won-door-land and En-Door-Phin.
First snow of th season 009
Ear buds. See what I did there?
Joe and Mary
Joe and Mary, two theatre parents extraordinaire, check out the list of award winners.
The Drama Dads
A trio of drama dads — Joe, Paul and Pete.
Costumer and North Theatre alum Tina Hoff.
Molly and Vinnie
Molly’s brother Vinnie, a North Theatre alum, came to see her perform.
The Drama Mamas
Drama Mamas.
Molly Jacie Kayla Jaya
Jacie, Jaya, Molly and Kaelah took a moment to celebrate after their performance. The actors and crew have to set up, perform the play and clear the stage in 40 minutes. Following the performance, they have to load their set onto a truck. It’s an excellent team effort.
The crowded theatre
This was the crowd cramming into the packed theatre for the Appleton North show.
Alice in Wonderland falling
A strict no photo policy kept me from taking any pictures during any stages of the competition, so I am borrowing a few from my talented friend Catherine McKenzie, who shot them at the state send-off. For more of her beautiful pictures, including plenty from the show, please visit her website at mckenzieimages.com.
Alice in Wonderland tech
North built its set with white blocks, so the tech crew, which traditionally wears black, all wore white as well. The seamless movement between scenes impressed both seasoned and rookie theatre goers.
Alice in Wonderland Queen of Hearts
Off with their heads! The costuming, lighting and acting was superb.
Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit
He’s late, he’s late for a very important date! Every actor in the cast did an exceptional job, including the White Rabbit, Jack Russell.
Alice in Wonderland Cheshire Cat
This Cheshire Cat, played extremely well by Josiah Dempsey, was a technical masterpiece. At one point, the stage went dark and only the cat’s creepy smile shone through.
Here's a panoramic shot of the whole cast. Bravo!
Here’s a panoramic shot of the whole cast. Bravo!


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