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Preparation Rewards at DTASC Competitions

Students pose with WISH theater teacher Ms. Landon at the Drama Teachers’ Association of Southern California’s Fall Festival in October 2023

Students seeking to showcase their talents don’t always look to competitive environments as the most supportive places to get started—but perhaps they should, according to many of the young actors, singers, and costume and set designers who’ve represented WISH Academy at the Drama Teachers’ Association of Southern California (DTASC)’s theater competitions. As senior Summer Lucas, interviewed with Duncan Rampen on May 31st while rehearsing for a DTASC event showcasing winning entries from its spring Shakespeare Festival, recalled, “I think it’s the coolest thing to see all these people with such respectable talent that then tell you that they think you did great—there’s no better feeling.” WISH has seen increasing success in DTASC competitions over the past three years; Rampen and Lucas’s 2nd-place performance with a truncated dialogue from Shakespeare’s Richard III, out of about 25 entries in the same category, is the school’s highest trophy yet. Ms. Landon, WISH Academy’s theater teacher, organizes and coaches the school’s DTASC participants.

Founded in 1920, DTASC has long held two “festivals” per year: the Fall Festival in October, and the Shakespeare Festival in April, held around the time of the famed playwright’s birthday and focused on his work. Both take up a full Saturday for students, often including travel time to the faraway high school campuses where these regional events are held. They feature competitions in many areas ranging from costume and set design to monologues, play excerpts, and musicals, with each competition emphasizing a different aspect of the art of theater through parameters including a strictly limited runtime—usually only five to eight minutes. The requirements of each event—a specific theme, an amount of performers, or what plays to perform and how to modify them—require participants to get creative. Lucas and Rampen, close friends since kindergarten, performed a truncated version of Act 1, Scene 2 of Richard III (in which Richard attempts to win the hand of Lady Anne after having her husband and father-in-law both murdered) alone on stage for the “Real Housewives of Shakespeare” event. They used four chairs laid down facing the audience to represent the corpse of King Henry VI due to DTASC’s prohibition of props and costumes in many acting-focused competition areas. Other competition areas require that an entire play be condensed into an eight-minute performance. According to Ms. Landon, “It takes me eight hours to cut a scene. … I’ve got to read the whole play and really understand how I can make this match up.” She recounted cutting Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear, both of which can take over 2 hours to perform unabridged, for the other group that competed in the spring, requiring her to fully read and understand both plays before condensing them. This year, WISH Academy brought about 10–15 students to both DTASC events. At the Shakespeare Festival, they presented two scenes in small groups and a costume design from Mastercraft students. Larger schools that present more scenes can bring dozens of students.

Competing in DTASC also requires weeks, or even months, of preparation from participating performers. WISH Academy’s costume and set design entries usually come from students in Ms. Landon’s Mastercraft class, where they have time to prepare. Other performers—actors, or even singers—must memorize their lines on their own time and rehearse with Ms. Landon during free periods or after school. Duncan Rampen and Summer Lucas prepared for their scene while on vacation together during Spring Break and had their lines almost entirely committed to memory in time to dive deep into the performance with Ms. Landon when they returned. Since competition areas usually strip a theatrical skill to its most essential components (such as by focusing on short, often condensed scenes and restricting props to a so-called “Festival of Chairs”), an entry strong enough to advance to finals—or even to rank in the five numbered places or win one of five honorable mentions in each event—requires competitors to devote hours to honing their performances, such as by carefully considering the delivery and body language of each line to create an emotionally impactful scene. Rampen and Lucas’s “Real Housewives of Shakespeare” entry is WISH’s second ever in the top five, with the school having won several honorable mentions as well since beginning to compete in Fall 2021.

However, Rampen and Lucas both cited as DTASC’s greatest benefit the supportive community of the Los Angeles area’s most passionate theater students that it brings together. Rampen remarked, “It’s just such an amazing opportunity to perform in front of … so many people who love this craft, and that are gonna give you so much. There’s something about the conversations that matter so much more with a lot of those people, because they get it and they care about the same things, and they’re so talented.” Ms. Landon added, “The reason that I do it is to give people the opportunity to see what’s possible. Because very often, people act from a very safe place, and they are very conservative in their choices as an actor… But what happens is, when you go to DTASC and you see people being bold, and brazen, and expressive, … it says to you, I need to be more expressive, it’s going to be OK—if anything, it’s going to help me get more attention! So, it’s really inspirational…”

On the 31st, the seniors were especially excited to present their DTASC scene in front of an audience later that day at the winners’ showcase, taking what they’d experienced at the competition to a new environment. Alongside Ms. Landon, they strongly encouraged anyone interested in dedicating time and effort to theater to participate, agreeing that anyone who did so would not regret it and be excited to return.

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