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Teens waited nervously in the hall outside the judging room, holding folders and binders of their costume designs for the Wyoming State High School Drama Competition. A pair spun and jumped in unison as they rehearsed a scene one more time before performing on Friday for judges.

More than 650 high school students from around Wyoming packed the Casper College theater building and a few other spaces around campus Thursday to Saturday for the state drama event. Between competitions, they participated in workshops with experts including college instructors and professionals from around the country.

Casper hosted the event for the first time since 2010, said Natrona County High School drama teacher Zach Schneider. State drama gives students a chance to compete and learn from judges as well as audition for theater scholarships and other opportunities, he said. This year, the event featured workshops for the first time. The sessions gave more time for students to work on skills with professionals, including a Broadway choreographer and instructor from The New York University Tisch School of the Arts, one of the premier acting schools in the country, he added.

“What we want is more of an educational foundation. Competition is vital – kids learn a lot from competing,” Schneider said. “But there’s nothing like having a college instructor or a professional in the business teach you what you need to know.”

In the main Casper College dance studio, students mirrored movements of Brian Martin and Bradley Zarr from Broadway-integrated training program Open Jar in New York City. The students spun and stepped with the instructors at their workshop, called “Broadway Bootcamp.”

“OK, let’s go through that with music,” Martin said. The theme song from the musical “Hairspray” pumped through the room as the students stepped, spun and moved their arms in time to the music.

Senior Jacob Muntzer from Laramie said he enjoyed a rare opportunity to work with a professional in the business, he said.

“It turns out he’s from Broadway, and I want to get on Broadway somehow,” he said.

Zarr also held a master class and audition last weekend for one scholarship to the school’s summer institute.

Senior Emma Tinsley from Sundance looked forward on Friday to auditioning for the opportunity the next morning. She learned about the opportunity when she arrived at state drama and started practicing one of favorite Broadway songs in her downtime, she said.

She spent much of Friday on her entry for the fantasy makeup design competition, which called for students to create designs based on the theme, “inanimate objects and childhood nightmares.” Her design she applied to a model and presented to judges was a murderous Pinocchio who hadn’t been turned into a real boy, so he killed boys and attached pieces of their flesh to his face, she said.

She’s considering a career in theater, likely on the technical side, like costume and design, she said. So she spends a lot of time preparing and enjoyed learning more during the competition. One of the best parts for her was being around so many other students with common interests, because she comes from a small school.

“To come here and be able to have conversations with people about musicals and costume and stuff is really cool,” she said.

Students on Friday spent two hours on their makeup designs before presenting them to judges. Natrona County High School junior Zaylie Johnson affixed patches of fuzz to her face, along with a dangling button eye for the concept of a teddy bear absorbing a child for her fantasy makeup design. The idea came from a story she wrote about old toys taking over the bodies of children who’d abandoned them. Afterward, she said the judges gave her helpful tips, including making the button eye pop out more, she said.

Senior Morgan Pennington from Worland High School was a little nervous as she waited in a hallway to present her costume design project to judges. This year she’s in fourth year costume design, so the entry required her to design costumes for every character in a play. Her project included 17 costumes for a mystery set in 1950s called “Murder at the Malt Shop.” Her binder included her sketches of figures in each costume and descriptions she wrote about her decisions.

She’s taken first place twice in costume categories in previous years. She took third last year after not including a required chart of what costumes characters wear in which scenes. This year, she reviewed the rules extra carefully to make sure she had everything she needed, and hoped to do better. She’s taken tips from past judges, including drawing faces on her figures, because that gives them more expression, she said.

Maeve Knepper and Chris Housand from Cheyenne East found an open space in a hallway and ran through a scene from the play ‘Bottoms Up” just before the varsity duet competition. Both also competed in other acting and technical theater categories over the weekend. Hosuand enjoyed talking with the judges after a critique in lighting design this year. One even drew him a diagram to explain a lighting setup, he said.

The students at state drama are learning skills they’ll need for a competitive business, as well as professional skills that’ll apply to any career, Schneider said.

“Something like this is vital to give these kids 21st century job skills of getting up and presenting themselves,” Schneider said. “These are skills they’ll use in job interviews wherever they go and it’s important because it’s creative and they’re passionate about it, and we need that more in schools.”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


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