By Jess O’Connor

On Friday, January 31st, SA Theater Director Jenifer Cote set out with 11 students on what promised to be a weekend filled with excitement. This year, Sonoma Academy participated in the 58th Annual Lenaea Theatre Festival, a high school theatre competition in Folsom, California.

In the competition, high school theatre departments from all over California can enter into categories such as Duo Scenes, Monologues, and Musical Theatre. Cote was anxious to return for the second time, after the success of last year when Miles Levin and Grace Martin won a gold medal for their performance of a scene from the production of “Metamorphoses.”  

This year, Cote wanted to make sure that SA covered all the bases, and entered contestants into almost every available category at the festival.

“My goal for this year was to go back and just sort of get our hands wet in as many of the categories as possible,” she said.

She brought with her eight actors, three singers, a director, and a set designer, hoping that SA would be well-represented and leave an impression. SA entered into the Monologue, Duo Scene, Musical Theatre, and (Student-Directed) One-Act categories.

Every day brought on fresh nerves, as SA competed in one or two of these categories each day. The weekend began with Musical Theatre, and ended with the Duo Scenes.

“I had a great time, and all the boys were very cute,” said senior Riley Rose Smothers, who sang “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” from “Grease” for the Musical Theatre competition. “When we sang, it was good, and a little scary. But mostly, I had fun!”

Senior Alice Doyle and sophomore Jess O’Connor also competed in the Musical Theatre category. Senior Marshall McGraw and junior Grace Martin brought a duo scene, along with junior Logan Noel and senior Morgan Apostle.

On Saturday, SA competed for the first time in the One-Act category, with Tennessee Williams’s “The Pretty Trap,” student-directed by Alice Doyle. The one-act starred Marshall, Grace, senior Rachel Scherrer, and junior Jack Lasseter.

“My thoughts in the morning were, ‘Alright, we got this!’” Rachel recalled. “My thoughts about half an hour before we went on were, ‘Oh God, what are we doing now? What even is life?’ And then, like, five minutes before the lights went up I was like, ‘I hope I remember my lines.’”

She did more than remember her lines. The One-Act was a success, winning a bronze medal in its category, and Alice Doyle took home silver for her student direction.

“I’m so super proud of the students for bringing a student-directed one-act… A lot of teachers bring one-acts that they’ve directed, that they want to compete with, but I was proud that ours was a student-directed one-act… It was just as good as the ones that teachers directed, and that just shows that we have great talent across the board,” said Cote.

On the final day, four actors from SA performed monologues: Rachel, Jess, Grace, and senior Robert Graham. It was in this category that SA scored highest of all. Rachel Scherrer won a gold medal for her performance of Claudia Shears’s “Blown Sideways Through Life.”

At the awards ceremony, she had to give a command performance of her piece, in front of all 58 schools that participated in the festival.

“I really enjoyed seeing everyone else’s command performance,” she said, “But I got up there and I was like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing… Oh dear, I hope this goes well.’ I honestly couldn’t tell you how it went… Apparently it went well.”

Jess O’Connor also received a bronze medal for her performance of a monologue, and Marshall and Grace received bronze medals for their performance of a scene.

“It was an amazing wonderful surprise,” Cote said. “And I think it was so great to just keep hearing Sonoma Academy called over and over. It made me so happy.”

She wasn’t the only one who was impressed. One of the judges, Mark Manske, sent Cote an email, filled with praise for her students and for her.

Manske said, “You have instilled in them a wonderful openness and curiosity that is rare and beautiful. At any rate, you have inspired. I just wanted you to know that.”

Cote hopes to return again next year with more entries into the categories of original play writing.  

“I learn so much every time I go. It makes me want to go back next year stronger, because I’m sort of seeing how to be stronger there… I have a competitive spirit,” she laughed.

Although competition is unavoidable, the goal of Lenaea, as their mission statement says, is, “To advance the education of high school theatre arts students by offering opportunities to strengthen, promote, and share artistic skills within an interactive and supportive educational environment.”

Asked what the spirit of Lenaea meant to her, Cote said, “To me it’s a celebration of high school theatre at its best… Gathering in that location with groups of people who love this as much as we do… Being there in that environment, in that energy, and experiencing what it feels like to be a part of something that feels so exciting and magical, it’s amazing. I come back feeling more connected. It makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger.”

“It means the world to me, honestly,” Rachel said. “I like seeing theatre, I like seeing students do theatre, I like theatre people, I like everything about it. It’s kind of a culmination and you get to see a lot of people doing the things they love to do, and the things they love to see, and it’s just a nice atmosphere. Everyone likes to be there and wants to be there and it’s not like an air of competition. We’re all there to support each other, because we love this thing more than we love getting first place.”