Stansbury High School may have opened just six years ago, but a talented group of students already has displayed quite a flair for the dramatic.
Last month, the Stansbury High drama team brought home its third consecutive state championship, a product of months of preparation and dedication.
“My kids are amazing,” Stallion Drama director Glen Carpenter said. “They really are. Once they set their mind to something, they can kind of accomplish almost anything.”
This year’s championship may have been the most difficult of all. In 2013 and 2014, the state drama festival took place on Stansbury’s own campus. This time, the Stallions had to make the long trek south to St. George, where they had to perform for an unfamiliar group of judges.
“We were definitely nervous because we weren’t here,” senior Brayden Summers said. “That’s a big reason why we care so much about this trophy, because people think that we only won the first two years because we were here. We just proved that it doesn’t matter where we are — we still won.”
Stansbury did more than merely win the state title — the Stallions posted a perfect score at the state drama festival, despite having just four days to prepare after the region competition. It was the perfect statement for Carpenter and his students, who had to endure criticism that their first two titles had somehow come easily.
“After the second one, the St. George schools were out for our blood because we had had state here two years in a row, and they felt that because we were on our home turf, that’s why we won,” Carpenter said. “This year, the kids felt a little added pressure to prove to the St. George schools that it didn’t matter where we performed at — our kids were still top of the line.”
Part of the reason that Stansbury put forth such an impressive effort at the state drama festival can be attributed to the amount of work the students put in. While drama can be a bit of an afterthought at some schools, with competitors practicing for maybe a month before region and state competitions, the Stansbury students began working on their competition pieces in January.
Carpenter had his students begin thinking about what events they wanted to take part in before Christmas break, and they sat down and started picking their competition pieces when they came back in January.
“[Carpenter has] seen us in class, he’s seen us improvise, he’s seen us on the stage delivering lines, so he knows what kind of personality type we can bring and what we can do for a specific character,” senior Asher Neafsey said. “He picks the piece and he picks a character that we can play in a way that will really shine on the stage.”
Once the competition pieces were chosen, the students dedicated themselves to their craft through rehearsals before, during and after school, sometimes for hours at a time.
“There’s all kinds of crazy rehearsal schedules,” senior Shawn Miller said.
However, for Carpenter and his students, spending countless hours refining their competition pieces is a labor of love.
“They work hard,” Carpenter said. “A lot of people think that I push them a lot, but they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t love it. Yes, I push them to strive for excellence, but at the same time, if they didn’t want to do that, it would never happen.”
That hard work all paid off the second weekend of April. Neafsey earned straight superiors for his dramatic monologue, “Custer.” Summers teamed with Erin Bales to earn straight superiors for their contemporary scene, “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” and Miller and Connor Morrison earned straight superiors for their musical theatre performance of “Agony” from “Into the Woods.”
Chloe Nielson and Vanessa Brandaris also earned straight superior ratings for their musical theatre piece, “I Know Him So Well” from “Chess.” Nielson, who began her high school career by doing classical scenes, eventually moved into musical theatre to pursue her passion.
“It’s a trial and error thing,” Nielson said. “You try it and if you’re good at it, that’s great, but if you hate it, then you won’t do it anymore. You just pick whatever you like and whatever you feel like you’re good at.”
Nielson noted that competing at the state drama festival is different from competing in most other high school activities because of the versatility required.
“You have to be in multiple things, be able to do multiple things and be the best out of so many people in multiple activities, which is really interesting,” she said.
Connor Saunders and Lexi Kelso garnered straight superior ratings for “A Problematic Solution/Dingy” from “Something’s Afoot,” as did Ryan Nielsen and Parker Bridges for “Timeless to Me” from “Hairspray.”
Mason Smith and Kayden Durrant captured third place with their pantomime of “The Unfortunate Toilet Disaster,” which earned straight superior ratings. Whitney Perfilli and Caleb Sonntag earned overall superior ratings for “Wedding Disaster.” Kimberly Vigil and Monica Adams garnered straight superiors for “Monkey Business,” as did Noah Handley and Brayden Miller for “See You See Me.”
In contemporary scenes, Courtney Stoker, Amanda Logan and Kate Gottfriedsen earned overall superiors for “Prom.” Connor Jones, Tyson Turner and Kaitlynn Manning captured straight superiors for “The Proposal,” as did Bri Klenk and Madison Olsen for “Barefoot in the Park.”
In classical scenes, Isaac Cunningham and Lexi Loertscher earned straight superior ratings for “The Misanthrope,” as did Amanda Brandaris and Camilla Uphill for their rendition of the same piece. Jaycee Harris and Emily Dale teamed up to earn straight superiors for “Taruffe,” and Dawson Carter, Karissa Zollinger and Parker Powers garnered straight superiors for “The Proposal.”
Lalenia Durfee (“The Birds”), Katia Tyler (“It’s Terrible Being Nice”), Bryson Johnson (“Honey, I’m a Leprechaun”) and Isabel Handley (“6 Foot Even”) each earned straight superiors for their humorous monologues.
Stansbury’s one-act play, “Miss Beth,” also earned straight superiors. The cast included Durfee, Summers, Loertscher, Bales, Klenk, Handley, Manning, Kelso, Neafsey, Olsen, Stoker, Saunders, Nielsen, Cunningham, Gottfriedsen and Clark Pehrson. Bales earned Best Character Actress honors, while Saunders was honored for Best Cameo Performance.
“To watch these kids succeed in something they love brings me more happiness than anything else,” Carpenter said of his students’ performance at the state festival. “It’s not me — it’s them. They do the majority of the work. I coach them, I finesse them, I correct them and I give them suggestions, but they do most of the work themselves. That’s why I love my job. All I’m there for is to tweak stuff. I’m there to polish it. They come in doing most of the work themselves.”
Neafsey said it was a special moment for him and his teammates when the team learned it had won its third championship.
“I felt really proud,” he said. “This was actually my first year going to state, so I was really happy that I was able to contribute to the legacy. We were just overjoyed. We were hugging each other and singing ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen. It was a pretty great experience.”
Miller also was glad to help Stansbury build on its already impressive legacy as one of the top high school drama programs in the state, crediting those who came before him for their part in building Stallion Drama from the ground up.
“The original students were so passionate about it and threw us in the right direction and blazed a trail for us,” he said. “They made a name for Stansbury drama.”
Carpenter hopes that the program can continue to build on what it already has accomplished. Several Stansbury alums are thriving in the performing arts in college, with one student earning leading roles at Southern Utah University and another having recently won a Best Actor award at Westminster College. A number of his current students will go on to either major or minor in performing arts after they graduate from high school, and the future of the SHS program continues to be bright, with talented freshmen set to enter high school next fall.
“I don’t want to say that we’re going to win forever,” Carpenter said. “I would love that — I would love to have a whole trophy case just full of nothing but state trophies. I would love to have the kind of legacy that Carol LaForge left at Tooele High School, because she’s got three trophy cases full of all the trophies she won in 35 years at that school, and that’s what I would love for these kids.”
Carpenter also would like the community to come out and see the product of his students’ hard work.
“I would love to see the community come out and support us more,” he said. “I would love to see our auditorium full for all the stuff that we do. They need to come see the talent we have in this school.”