Bangs One Act Play places third at UIL state competition, best finish in three trips to event

BANGS — Sitting tensely in the Jerry Fay Wilhelm Performing Arts Center in Bastrop around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, 21 one act play cast and crew members from Bangs High School held hands as they waited.

Under the direction of Bangs High School theatre arts director Billie Harvey, they’d taken their play, “The Balken Women,” to UIL competition and advanced past district, past bi-district, past area, past region — and finally, to state-level competition in Bastrop.

The announcer called out the winners: in third place — officially, second runner-up — Bangs High School. “The Balkan Women” is an emotional women’s prison play about the ethnic cleansing of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.

Maintaining the decorum dictated by the setting, the students applauded politely — but they were screaming on the inside. The shouting and cheering would come later.

Bangs had two previous performances at one act play at state — in 2013, and about a decade before that. The Bangs plays didn’t place at either of those.

For Bangs, it had been a three-year climb to state UIL competition in one act play. Two years ago, Bangs was stopped at area; last year, the student actors made it to regionals.

“It hasn’t even hit yet,” one act play member Josh Browning, a junior, said as most of the cast and crew gathered with Harvey in the school’s auditorium Thursday afternoon.

When asked to rate the experience on a scale of 1-10, freshman Junior Solis had a quick answer. “It broke my scale,” Junior said.

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Beginning around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, the day of the state competition, the Bangs students woke up for the start of a 22-hour day. After getting their set and equipment loaded into the performing arts center, they were given a brief time to rehearse.

In addition to skill, doing well at competition also takes “a whole lot of luck,” Harvey said. There are factors the cast and crew can’t control, but they are factors that matter: the right judges, the right day, the right time, the order they perform in. “You never know when you’re going to get that,” Harvey said.

“I’ve seen really incredible shows have an off day and not get to move on.”

Performances began at 4 p.m., and the Bangs students performed around 10 p.m. Waiting to begin the play was a nerve-racking, adrenaline-filled experience — but “once the lights go dim, it’s autopilot,” junior Josh Browning said.

Judges’ comments about the play included:

n “Every moment of this show was tremendous! I didn’t want to take notes.”

n “ Powerfully moving performances by all of you — strong evidence of ensemble.”

n “Wonderful storytelling!”

n “An intense state performance!”

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In their familiar Bangs High School auditorium, cast and crew members who will be returning next year didn’t want to talk about how far they might go in future UIL competition. They don’t talk about that, the students said, because they don’t want to jinx it.

The students reflected on their experiences as one act play members and the state completion:

“When I first joined one act, I thought it was a way to get out of school.” — senior Matthew Johnson, who went on to say it had taken over his life and become family.

“We’re basically a family … it’s a safe place.” — junior Katelyn Gotcher.

“One act play is fun, and it’s work.” — sophomore McKenna Meadow, who added “It’s so much fun that you want to work your hardest all the time.”

“The hard work is fun, and winning is fun.” — senior Kenedi Deal.

“It’s easily been the best experience of my life and I will use the skills I learned in one act in the long run.” — sophomore Brock Bettis. Brock said the skills he learned will be helpful in business, where it’s necessary to persuade people to buy into a product, in team building and talking with people.

And in “lifting,” Brock added, spurring laughter from his castmates. You lift equipment, you lift fellow actors, Brock explained.

“For us seniors that are leaving, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish it out.” — senior Chase Phillips.

“One act isn’t just about acting … it’s about supporting each other. We’re a family.” – senior J.B. Eoff.

“Even though it’s over, we’re still going to remember this play. It will be a great memory to hold on to the rest of our lives.” — sophomore Erika Owen.