Thomas’s play “House of Atreus” takes first at sub-sections!

This weekend was the world premier of our son Thomas’s play “The House of Atreus”, written for Morris Area High School (MAHS) to perform as their entry in the annual One Act competition. Today they took first at Sub-Sections, and will go on to Sections next week!

Cast of MAHS one act 'The House of Atreus', written by our son Thomas. Photo from Morris Sun-Tribune.
Cast of MAHS one act “The House of Atreus”, written by our son Thomas.
Photo from Morris Sun-Tribune.

This weekend was the world premier (doesn’t that sound grand?) of our son Thomas’s play “The House of Atreus”. He wrote the play for the Morris Area High School (MAHS) folks to perform as their entry in the annual One Act competition, and it was a really wonderful opportunity to give back to the theatre program that was so valuable to him during his time at MAHS.

The play is a challenging one to perform, involving a lot of monologue from the four leads, and a lot of synchronized response from the chorus. There’s not a lot of action, as the play emphasizes ideas instead of car chases and love scenes. The cast really rose to the challenge, though, and managed to own these complex concepts and stories.

I’m particularly grateful that teacher/director Seth Kelly was willing to work with Tom on this. Not everyone would be willing to take a flyer on a still-being-written play by a college student. Mr. Kelly, however, was incredibly supportive of Tom’s writing, and was then able to help his student actors inhabit these complex characters and make the play really work on the stage.

All this would have been totally wonderful if all that happened were the two performances at the high school. Today, however, they took the play to the one act sub-sections and won first place! This qualifies them to go on to sections next Saturday (8 Feb). If they can take first there as well then they perform in the state event on Friday the 14th! Taking first at sections is tough as the competition is likely to be stiff, but a parent can hope :-)

Congratulations to Thomas for writing such a cool play, and to all the MAHS folks that brought it to life on the stage!

We really liked Mr. Kelly’s description of the story in the program:

This bold and honest Greek drama is a tragedy within a tragedy, focusing on Agamemnon’s children. Agamemnon, a hero of the Iliad and the Odyssey, has no shortage of heroic feats and triumphs under his storied belt, but his children’s struggles are more complex. In popular mythology, these four siblings are rarely given depth, often acted upon as pawns, and usually treated as victims rather than individuals. This play gives them the voices they lost millennia ago.

Iphigenia, Chrysothemis, Electra, and Orestes must face the terrible realities of their existence in order to make peace with their lives. As they bravely face the trauma of their pasts, they grasp for hope’s elusive grip. The truths they stumble upon along the way are as relevant today as they were in ancient Greece.

and his “Director’s Note”:

I knew that selecting a Greek play for our One Act this year was ambitious. After all, stripping actors of all physical objects and elaborate scenery leaves them with little but their own dramatic imaginations to carry the story. That said, at the production’s onset I couldn’t have fathomed the intensity we eventually found in these stories and characters. I’m tremendously proud of our cast and crew, and I would never have burdened them with such a complex and challenging script if I didn’t have faith in their ability and dedication.

We are pleased that this year’s show was written by MAHS alum Thomas McPhee, who currently studies Theatre and Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am delighted that his passions have continued to inspire us beyond his tenure here, and I sincerely hope this won’t be the last time he lends us his talent.

It is also worth noting that, as in all Greek tragedies, very weighty themes abound in this show. At its best, tragedy informs the audience how we might improve the business of our own fleeting lives, therefore an ever-present, foreboding sense of mortality drives these stories. We recognize that these concepts might be difficult for younger children to digest, so please don’t feel locked in to your ticket purchase if, knowing this, you’d rather not have your children hear about violence, war, sacrifice, death, and revenge. We understand! The ticket taker can refund you if you leave before the show begins.

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Thomas is heading to the Minnesota state finals for Poetry Out Loud!

Thomas McPhee placed first at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud Lake Regional in Fergus Falls, and will go on to the state finals in the Fitzgerald Theater on Monday, 8 March 2010. This is the fourth straight year that at least one student from the Morris Area High School has qualified for the state finals in Poetry Out Loud.

Award ceremony at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud regional, Fergus Falls, MN
Award ceremony at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud regional, Fergus Falls, MN. Thomas McPhee (on far right) took first.

Last night was the 2010 Lake Regional competition as part of the national Poetry Out Loud competition. Morris Area High School (MAHS) had two students in the field, Thomas McPhee and Tim Ostby, and Thomas took first place! He and Ellen Ferry (who took second) will be among the 18 students from around Minnesota at the state finals in the wonderful Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, starting at 9:30am, Monday, 8 March 2010.

Thomas qualified for the state finals last year (along with MAHS student Alex McIntosh), so we had the good fortune to attend last year’s event. The quality of the performances was really exquisite, and I highly recommend the event to any fans of poetry and literature in the area.

Tim Ostby (the other MAHS student this year) placed fifth at the regional. Congratulations to him and all the other students that performed last night! While there were fewer competitors at the regional than last year, the quality of the performances was considerably stronger, and the venue (A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls) was vastly better than last year’s (a classroom at a regional community college).

Thomas McPhee, David Johnson, and Tim Ostby at the 2010 Lake Regional for Poetry Out Loud
Thomas McPhee, David Johnson, and Tim Ostby at the 2010 Lake Regional for Poetry Out Loud. Thomas took first, and Tim took fifth.

A huge thanks to David Johnson, drama coach and english teacher at MAHS. Dave’s been a huge influence and support for Thomas in both theatre and Poetry Out Loud. It’s greatly to Dave’s credit that MAHS has had a student in the state finals of Poetry Out Loud each of the last four years (which is every year MAHS could have competed), with two in last year’s finals. Further, every MAHS student that’s gone to state has placed in the top 6: Anika Kildegaard took 2nd in 2007, Mary Hu won the state competition in 2008 and went on to the National Finals, and Alex McIntosh placed 4th and Thomas McPhee 6th in 2009. In fact Morris is the only high school in the state to place four students in the top 6 from 2007-2009, with no other school has placing more than two. Not a bad track record for a small rural high school. Thanks a ton to Dave for all his support and assistance!

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