Gretna One-Act Takes the Stage Seeking Another Title
By Allison Mollenkamp , NET News
Dec. 10, 2019, 6:45 a.m. ·
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Wednesday, the state one-act competition begins in Norfolk. Students from across Nebraska will perform half-hour plays and musicals, all vying for the top spots. One director has led Gretna High School to twice as many play production state championships as any other school in the state.
Carole Carraher stood in front of the Gretna High School stage, which was filled with young performers. They were rehearsing a half-hour cut of the Woody Allen musical Bullets Over Broadway.
Carraher leads the one-act program as its director. She came to Gretna in 1985 as an English teacher and has directed the one-act ever since.
“Not only has the program changed here in Gretna, but I believe that it has changed statewide and I think as time passes on, in the fine arts, our kids, statewide, collectively get better and better and better," Carraher said. "What I was doing on stage or on speech team in high school, may not compete at all today.”
Gretna High School students rehearse this year's one-act, Bullets Over Broadway (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)
Gretna’s shows almost always compete. Since Carraher arrived, Gretna has won their class at state a whopping 25 times. So what does Carraher look for in a script that will hopefully take her students to state?
“First and foremost a good story. We want to tell stories on stage," Carraher said. "We want our audience members to not have to really think about what’s going on. We don’t want to confuse them. We just want to entertain them.”
Nebraska high school one-acts are judged on a 60 point rubric: 50 of those are related to acting, things like physical and vocal characterization and reacting. The final ten are for sets, costumes, and sound.
This year, Gretna’s production includes another element: music. Carraher turned to her students for the music and choreography. The songs were arranged by Gretna student Will Holke and are played by students as well. A group of students is even choreographing original dances for the show. One of those students is senior Jonah Bricker, who also leads the onstage band as a singer.
“We are normally the kids who are being choreographed, and we’re standing there, learning the choreography," Bricker said. "And it’s really cool for us to be able to choreograph it in return and teach a group of kids how to do the choreography. Or like sing it on my own and have a bunch of solos in the show, that’s super cool for me. And I’m sure for Will, he gets to listen to his music be played on stage for everybody.”
Student choreographers put together the dance for "Up A Lazy River" in just a few hours. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)
Students take on a significant time commitment to be a part of the one-act. Rehearsals are scheduled for four hours four days a week. TJ Huber is a senior at Gretna High School.
“It’s kind of difficult to balance it at times, but it’s not too difficult because when you have the thought in mind of having so much fun and creating all of these amazing memories with people, it’s alright to stay up late, in my own opinion," Huber said. "It’s alright to stay up late or wake up early to get stuff done for school.”
Huber came to one-act in part due to Carraher’s long-standing legacy at Gretna. His mother was part of the program in high school and had Carraher as a director.
“And she said it was a really good time," Huber said. "She also teaches here and I thought that I’d give it a try because of how much she loved it and how strong the bonds she said were and loved it ever since.”
For some, those bonds feel like family. Chloe Irwin is a sophomore at Gretna.
“We’re such a close family, especially when it gets close to competition itself," Irwin said. "‘Cause we’ve all like built such amazing relationships, and then so when it comes to competition it’s super fun.”
Irwin hopes to take her passion for theatre all the way to New York City.
“I really want to go to NYU for acting and theatre, and I would also love to like put that maybe into a teaching education also," Irwin said. "So I’d love to start off a career with theatre and acting and then maybe move into education.”
Irwin wouldn’t be the only one who brought experience in high school theatre into teaching. Gabriella Montemarano won best actress twice at the state competition in high school and now helps lead the program as an assistant director.
“I teach speech and drama at the new Gretna middle school and as those kids get older –it’s only my third year there –but it’s kind of cool to see them come through, back through the high school, especially where we went," Montemarano said. "It’s really fun to see how the program has grown and changed and how it builds.”
This year around 120 students tried out for the one-act, and about 75 were accepted. In rehearsals, they seem genuinely excited to be there, to act and sing and put on a show –together. Montemarano says it’s a unique cultural phenomenon at Gretna.
Assistant director and Gretna one-act alumna Erin Pollard helps guide the technical elements of the show, including costumes. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)
“This is the only program that I have seen where kids on the football team want to be on the one-act, kids on the wrestling team have leads in the one-act," Montemarano said. "Kids on the track team, show choir kids, dance team kids, I mean, academic decathlon kids. There are no, it’s not just like ‘these kids are the one-act kids.’ The one-act kids are every kid.”
And the students that make up Gretna’s one-act are just that: kids. Balancing all the ups and downs of high school with the goal of another state championship. Carraher saw all of it wrapped up in one day of rehearsal.
“Halloween, they complained and complained and whined because ‘Miss Carraher you know it’s Halloween don’t you?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes it’s Halloween, and rehearsal is not going to stop,'" Carraher said. "On Halloween, they showed up, 80 kids in Halloween costumes, and we had so much fun that night. They worked so hard and not one child complained.”
The Gretna one-act will compete for their 26th state title on Friday.
Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Will Holke's name.
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