BURLINGTON — The Wisconsin High School Theater Festival announced Dec. 11 that Burlington High School’s one-act play, “Mill Girls,” excelled across four award categories.
BHS was one of only 10 schools across Wisconsin recognized with an award in all four school-level categories — Critics’ Choice, Directing, Ensemble and Crew.
The Critics’ Choice award recognizes the highest standard of excellence at the state festival. The lead adjudicator for BHS remarked that the show tackled very difficult subject matter and a hard story to tell emotionally, but the cast and crew obviously worked hard to make the story meaningful on many levels.
Competing in the one-act during the fall is always an accomplishment for the cast and crew, but this year the students had to navigate COVID-19 protocols to submit a virtual performance using masks and social distancing.
Carrie Fidler, director, recalls feeling grateful that rehearsals started in person but feared that any day rehearsals would become virtual.
“We made it farther than we could ever have imagined, and the show came together at an incredibly impressive pace due to the focus, dedication and teamwork of our cast and crew,” said Fidler.
The production was 48 hours away from recording its state-qualifying submission when the Burlington Area School District went virtual due to widespread positive cases and quarantines that also affected cast members. When students returned to school on Nov. 30, the company had one day to record the final performance and make adjustments to cover a couple of cast members still absent.
Fidler, along with assistant director Robert Thompson, technical director Colin Galitz, and costume director Michelle Morrell, received an award for Outstanding Directing. The judges noted the directors’ “sincere efforts to identify with these women and the rigors that they endured is commendable and genuine. I applaud the effort it takes to make dramatic statements that are as powerful as this one is.” in the performance feedback.
For older students, the process felt the same, but there was disappointment in not being able to attend competitions.
“On stage it all felt like home and pretty similar to what it once was,” said senior Megan Vos, who been a part of the crew for four years. “Not being able to go to competitions was extremely different. The freshman never got to experience the competition energy that we all once felt.”
“The adults made all of this possible,” said Vos. “They are the ones that were able to bring the Burlington High School stage to life. They were all extremely supportive.”
The directors chose the play “Mill Girls” because it showcased empowered female characters and important messages about unity, equity, perseverance and social justice. Those themes seemed ever more relevant as the play was in production.
The acting ensemble included Peyton Booth, Charley Bunker, Matilda Crist, Emily Hilden, Ariel Holle, Natalie Lovrine, Vivian Lynch, Jonathan Morrell, Deirdre O’Sullivan, Dori O’Sullivan, Luna Skywalker, David Smitz, Madeline Thompson, Erin Torpy and Kaitlin Vanderloop. Five cast seniors have participated in the One-Act all four years of high school.
The stage crew was under the leadership of stage manager Vos. She was assisted by assistant stage manager Katelynn Deephouse and propmaster Ayla Worske. Al Jost operated the live mill bell.
The run crew for the show included Jonathan Deephouse, Jacelyn Lois, Emmerson Dinatale Lorentz and MiKayla Shelton. The technical crew involved lighting engineer Julia Torpy, sound engineer Clare Freeburn and spotlight operator Nicole Mann.
Matt Nie and Rod Stoughton assisted with the recording technology.
In addition to the overall performance accolades, three actors received awards for their outstanding acting. Senior Dori O’Sullivan, who played the role of Bridget, has participated in the one-act all four years. The festival further honored senior Emily Hilden and ninth-grader Madeline Thompson, who both participated in the one-act for the first time. Jonathan Morrell received a nomination for his performance as Ephraim.
Though the show was still able to go on, the company recorded their competition videos to an empty theater audience. During the first recording, the seats were filled with more than 200 notes of encouragement submitted by family members, teachers, community members and alumni. During the state recording, the auditorium walls were covered in tributes to the 12 seniors and photos of their one-act performances over the years. People were also able to view online broadcasts of the performance Nov. 10 and Dec. 7.