The Minnesota State High School League’s one-act play festival returns to St. Catherine University in St. Paul this week to showcase some of this year’s best student theatrical performances.
The annual event has been using the arts to encourage student engagement with their schools and their peers from across the state since 1949.
“[The one-act festival] gets to different kids and gets them involved,” said Chris Franson, assistant director of the State High School League. The fine arts offer students not interested in sports an alternative outlet to be involved in bonding experiences, he said.
Finalists from 16 schools — including Robbinsdale Cooper in the north metro — will perform, with hopes of being awarded one of the festival’s star ratings and Wells Fargo’s Spotlight on the Arts award. Making it to the state level is already an accomplishment, however.
“Some teams have to beat 10 to 15 to 25 schools to get here,” Franson said.
The Robbinsdale Cooper team, directed by alumna Rachel Brady, takes the state stage on Thursday for the first time in 29 years. Its production of “La Dispute,” a “battle of the sexes” comedy, secured the team’s spot.
“My goal as director was to create the best production we possibly could and not worry about the competition aspect,” Brady said. It’s a validation of the work to have the students recognized, she said.
A year ago, Fridley High School’s team was in a similar position, capturing its first star at state since 1979. “The key to getting to state is starting with a script that’s really powerful and a cast that can handle it,” director Kevin Dutcher said. “Last year we had that.”
Fridley’s state team earned a star for its performance of “The Yellow Boat,” a story about an 8-year-old hemophiliac who used his creativity to keep his and his family’s spirits up after he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
“When we won regionals, part of me just went ‘finally!’ ” Dutcher said. Winning the star was the icing on the cake, he said.
Fridley was at the regional again this year, held over the weekend, but did not reach state.
What makes the one-act event unique is that it is a festival, not a tournament, Franson said. Unlike other competitions, teams are not ranked by their final scores; if the judges deemed them worthy, all of the performances could earn an award.
“The subjectivity of the activity has made it more of a showcase of the best of Minnesota, so there is no overall winner,” Franson said. “[It’s] more of a celebration of great theater.” Teams that don’t make it to state come to see the best of the best and cheer each other on, Franson said.
“We are collectively excited to see works brought together from all over the state,” Brady said.
Sarah Barchus is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.