Nansemond River theater receives recognition

Published 10:33 pm Friday, November 4, 2016

A group of Nansemond River High School students received several awards at this year’s Virginia Theatre Association High School Theatre Conference and Festival in Norfolk.

“It was one of our better years,” said Dr. Joleen Neighbours, the school’s chair of fine arts.

From Oct 27-30, the school’s competitive performing arts team competed against 500 students representing just under 100 schools around the state.

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The cast performed “Anna,” an original play by Nansemond River senior Savannah Miller, who is Neighbours’ daughter. She also directed the play alongside her mother and fellow student Megan Grass.

Despite rehearsing for only about a month, several cast members received several prestigious awards at the conference.

Miller won Best Actor in State, and Emily McCown, AviYonce Scott and Jaiyla Lewis received All-State Actor honors.

The production also received an Honorable Mention nod and won Best Production of a New Play.

Additionally, in the festival’s State High School New One-Act Play competition, Miller received first place. For the State High School New Play Full-Length competition, Scott received second place.

Finally, the “On-the-Spot” playwriting competition, in which students are given 24 hours to produce and perform a five-minute skit, Lewis won first place and Scott and Miller received third place.

The students accredited Neighbours’ encouragement to exceed expectations for their success.

“I hate high school drama, but I love theater,” Neighbours said. “I don’t shy away from the hard stuff.”

Neighbours said when her daughter first gave her the “Anna” script, “it was hard to swallow.”

“It was wonderfully uncomfortable,” she said.

“Savannah did her homework and researched on it. She talked to people who had experienced it.”

The play tells the story of a college student, Anna, played by Emily McCown, who has endured a sexual assault. The play follows the struggles Anna endures and how she is perceived in the community.

“I’ve never done anything that heavy,” McCown said. “It sheds light with what’s actually going on.”

The students had varying opinions about the roles they played.

Lewis, who played the college dean, “was trying to save face so she didn’t get in trouble” with Anna’s sexual assault case.

“It was really hard to play a role like that,” she said.

Miller, who played the defense attorney, the rapist’s lawyer, said she “spun what Anna said to make it look like it was a misunderstanding.”

“It was kind of difficult to remove opinion from the situation,” she said.

Scott, who played the assistant prosecutor, who was an advocate for Anna throughout the play, said she already “kind of has an advocate-activist mentality.”

“I know people who have went through it,” she said. “So, I sympathize with the people and I fell into the role.”

Also, during the conference, students attended various workshops and worked with Broadway actors, actresses and dancers.

Looking ahead, the group will be performing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in December and plan to participate in another competition the following month.