Nearly 800 Pinellas County theater students gathered last week at the District 4 Thespian Festival for three intense days of singing, dancing and acting competition.
The students, who are members of thespian honor societies at 22 public and private schools, met Jan. 15-17 on the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College and Countryside High School. Those who scored superior ratings qualified for the 2004 State Thespian Festival, which will be held March 31 through April 3 in Tampa.
This year's regional competition drew considerably more students than last year's, said Michael Vasallo, sponsor of St. Petersburg High School's thespian group. He added that the performance level was outstanding.
"I think our district is one of the most talented in the state of Florida," he said. "The drama teachers across the county have very high standards, and it creates a very high level of competition in Pinellas County."
Vasallo also is coordinator for this year's state festival.
On Jan. 15 and 16, the students competed in a one-act play competition. Individual students vied for best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress.
On Jan. 17, they participated in individual events, such as monologue, pantomime, duet acting, and solo and duet musical performance, earning ratings from fair to superior. Students judged best in each category received a critic's choice award at a ceremony that night.
Afterward, the top winners reprised their performances for a packed house in the Countryside High auditorium.
Nancy Topper, drama director at Seminole High School, was proud of the critic's choice award and five honorable mentions her students won.
"They did very well, but the most important thing is that they felt they did the best they could in that room at that time," Topper said. "If they got a critic's choice award or a superior, that was icing on the cake."
St. Petersburg High School junior Melissa Oropesa, 16, said the thrill for her was being among other students with a passion and a talent for theater. She won a critic's choice award for presenting back-to-back monologues, one comedic and one serious.
"During the concluding ceremonies, I felt so proud of my friends," she said. "I think that was the best part of my Saturday night."
Here are the critic's choice winners:
Monologue A: Michael Mastry, Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School; Monologue B: Tori Ritch, St. Petersburg High School; Monologue C: Melissa Oropesa, St. Petersburg High School.
Duet Acting A: Jenny Lister and Brad Payne, Seminole High School; Duet Acting B: Domenic Bisesti and Helena Kletch, Largo High School; Duet Acting C: Talia Daughtry and Celena Walton, Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School.
Pantomime: Ben Verhulst, St. Petersburg High School.
Ensemble Acting: Meredith Johnson, Noelle Stoops and Jordan Welch, East Lake High School.
Solo Musical A: Lisa Bosley, Clearwater High School; Duet Musical A: Michael Finkle and Gloria Munoz, Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School; Solo Musical B: Samantha Brown, Countryside High School; Duet Musical B: Kyle McKeon and Sarah Byrne, St. Petersburg Catholic High School.
Dance: Danielle Alagna, Michelle Algna and Meghan Schwartz, Clearwater Central Catholic High School.
Small Group Musical: Lisa Bosley, David Callahan, Dan Holm, Aaron Lucas, Eric Lund, Matt Marion and Carly Stark, Clearwater High School; Large Group Musical: Amanda Allen, Max Blowers, Autumn Burnette, Lauren Christ, Alyssa Cho, Mackenzee Crenshaw, Kelly Curtler, Sam Forrest, Katie Heffner, Haily Lai, Caitlin Morris, Kati Rouisse, Adam Ryan, Kelleigh Simpson, Ben Verhulst and Carson Zimmer, St. Petersburg High School.
Student Directed Scene: Austin McCann, Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School.
Publicity Design: Marisa Perry, St. Petersburg High School.
Playwrighting: Adam Ryan, St. Petersburg High School.
Costume/Set Design: Mirald Cake, Largo High School.
Mirald Cake from Largo High School won a Vern Bryant Scholarship. Lisa Bosley from Clearwater High School won a Dolly Van Parys Scholarship.
These students won honors in the one-act play competition:
Ulysses Burden, Gibbs High, best actor; Carly Stark, Clearwater High, best actress; Shelby Craig, Seminole High, best supporting actress; and Matt LeVine, St. Petersburg High, best supporting actor.
Additionally, Clearwater High, Countryside High, Gibbs High, Palm Harbor University High, Pinellas County Center for the Arts, St. Petersburg High and Seminole High won superior designation in the one-acts play competition.
Palm Harbor University High School earned best ensemble honors, and Northeast High School was named best technical crew.