Hillcrest High wins state 5A theater title, best ensemble at high school musical awardsAug 10, 2023 01:26PM ● By Julie Slama
Returning from the state theater competition, two school buses of Hillcrest High thespians exited the interstate.
Then sirens filled the air and lights flashed.
“I was in shock; I didn’t know what we were doing to have the police put on their sirens all of a sudden,” said senior Cameron Kelly, a member of Hillcrest’s theater team.
It wasn’t what they were doing, but rather what they had done that warranted a police escort to the school.
Not only were they returning victorious from the 5A Utah High School Activities Association state drama competition, but they had won it with the highest score on record. It is their seventh state drama title.
The team earned 1,465 points out of a possible 1,500, said theater director Josh Long.
“It was cool,” he said. “They hit all their goals they wanted to; we wanted to improve upon what we did last year regardless of how other schools did. We scored 65 more points than last year. It was a big, lofty goal we had. Another of our big goals was to use the feedback from the region competition and use it to improve our scores. I was most proud because we had 25 different pieces, and everyone worked hard after region and got better. That was neat to see.”
Long also was grateful for the warm community reception as parents, friends and supporters waved signs and clapped when they arrived back at the school escorted by police cars and firetrucks.
“What makes it so memorable was being welcomed by the school board, the mayor, their parents, the student body officers, the school administration,” Long said.
Kelly said the team wasn’t certain of the outcome prior to the announcement.
“We all had a lot of nervous feelings and we saw a lot of other great pieces at state. I think we all felt good about what we had done, but we didn’t expect that big win. We were on the edge of our seats until it was announced, then we jumped up uncontrollably out of our chairs and we were cheering and crying,” he said.
At state, they performed the one-act play, “Tea & Sympathy,” a piece the students picked.
“I’ve had that in my back pocket for over a decade and I wasn’t even planning on doing it this year. But after explaining the plot of it to the kids, they all were very excited and intrigued. I was concerned about having such an old script and the whole plot revolves around all these adults, talking about how terrible it would be to be gay. I worried that might be harmful to some of our students. But after talking to a couple members of our LGBTQ community, they said, ‘Not only would this be helpful, we think you should do it. We think it’s an important thing for our community to experience,’” Long said, adding that he got the nod from the administration to direct the piece.
At state, Hillcrest won best one-act, with outstanding performance by junior Munashe Tanjani. The thespians also won first place in a classical scene and in a contemporary scene. They placed second in a dramatic monologue and in costume design.
For the 11th straight year, Hillcrest won the overall sweepstakes at region and at the Utah High School Musical Theater Awards, Hillcrest was invited to perform a selection from “Catch Me If You Can.” They won best ensemble for "Oliver!"
Two seniors, Ruth Woodland and Cameron Jessop, were named to the UHSAA Academic All-State Team, and last fall, the thespians won the Oxford division of the 46th annual National High School Shakespeare Competition, taking first in tech Olympics, lighting, props, ensemble scene and in the duo/trio scene.
Despite all the accolades, Long said he’s most proud of the attitude of his students.
“They continue to set goals to become better at their craft. They’re motivated to get better and provide better experiences for their audiences. My favorite part about all this is seeing the kids try hard and care about what they do; they’re really passionate,” he said.
Kelly said it’s the passion and fun that bond the student actors.
“Our production of ‘Robin Hood’ was a fun experience,” he said. “There were people focused on creating characters in the village of Nottingham and others worked together to create an army or the Merry Men, but we all worked together to put on the show. For me, as a Merry Man, I had to push my body to the limit. It was a cool experience of self-discovery and growth to realize how much stronger I am than I thought I was and how I’m capable of growing towards. Every one of our shows has been memorable. ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was fun for the ensemble. We got to go out there, sing, dance and have fun. ‘Frankenstein’ may be one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in creating a show. The audience walks around the different scenes we’ve created, and they become immersed in the story they follow. We wrote the script in class from the novel, and it’s just been an exciting experience.”
“Oliver!” has been one of his all-time favorites he’s performed on Hillcrest’s stage.
“It had its own little beating heart in the world we created. We were able to pull from Charles Dickens’ world to create these characters and develop them from his words, so it made it feel more real,” he said.
Kelly and his twin sister, Courtney, got involved in theater in middle school at the urging of their mother, Christine, who works at Union Middle School.
“Their musical is a miniature version of what we do at Hillcrest and she wanted us to try it to experience it,” Kelly said. “We weren’t stoked about it, but I ended up thinking, ‘this is fun’ and it turned out to be a special thing when I was at Hillcrest.”
So much, the National Honors Society member juggled it around his responsibilities as a student body officer this past school year.
“It’s been something I put a lot of work into, especially at the beginning, getting all the lines down and the blocking. As I’ve gotten older, that has been easier, but we still put in a lot of hours to get a show up and running. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into a show, but it’s all worth it by the end.”
Now, the Hillcrest graduate plans to pursue engineering at Brigham Young University. He hopes to continue to perform.
“I’ve been lucky to do this all four years in high school,” he said. “I like getting to embody a person who is separate from yourself and getting to understand their emotions. It’s valuable in life.” λ