Olivia Johnson (Left) & Vanessa Young (Right) pose outside Madras High School

By 509J Communications

The Madras High School Thespian Troupe made a splash at the Southern Oregon Regional Acting Competition in early February. After being inactive for nearly a decade, the school sent a number of students to Summit High School for regionals.

The students who performed at regionals include:

Brennan Frank: Solo musical, novice

Lane Strode and Manny Meraz: Duo Comedic Acting, novice

Alyssia Scott, Jenelle Scott: Duo Dramatic Acting, novice

Olivia Johnson, Vanessa Young: Musical Theater Duo, regular

MHS seniors Johnson & Young made school history by winning their category, Musical Theater Duo. The two competed against more than 70 other duos from 27 high schools across Oregon. 

“All four judges unanimously ranked us first,” Johnson said. 

“It was definitely a shock,” Young added. “We just went in there wanting to have fun and compete. We wanted to get in the top half.” 

The two seniors performed the song, “Freedom” from the play “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.” The piece depicts two girls going on a road trip together. One of the girls is carefree and outgoing. Throughout the song, she encourages the other girl to be more free.

“I really like this song because it fits our personalities so well,” Johnson said. “It represents us being teenage girls and we’ve grown up together and done this for so long.” 

MHS Choir Director and Madras Elementary Music Teacher, Molly Williams, picked the song choice for them. Williams almost performed the song herself at a Thespian competition when she was in high school. 

The song was capable of showing off the student’s voices and it was also obscure enough that the judges don’t hear it all the time. Williams said that is one thing to look for in song choice in these types of competitions. She also thought it was the perfect fit for the two seniors.

“Vanessa’s range when she does high notes is so good,” Williams said. “Olivia just has this really wonderful, warm sound to her voice like kind of a narrative. So, I picked those characters for them because it was like these characters fit these girls so well.”

The girls asked their music teacher, Jared McFarlin, to accompany them on piano. He agreed and started to become familiar with the song. They ended up being the only group there with a pianist. The rest of the groups used Bluetooth speakers. 

“So, I think that just all those pieces came together to really send them on their way,” he said. “Then their natural talent just shone through and with their personality. So, it was just kind of this perfect storm.”

Oregon Thespians uses blind judging at regionals. So, the judges do not know who the performers are or what school they are from. Each group is assigned a letter and a number. Once the judges were done evaluating each duo, they started to call out the four winners. The overall winner that was called out was ‘L62.’ The letter and number for Johnson and Young. 

“Oh my gosh, I got up and I actually hit her face,” Young said. 

“She broke my glasses,” Johnson added. “They fell off my face as we were running up there. So, I’m trying to put my glasses in my pocket as we’re going up to the stage to get our medals.”

It was a moment that felt surreal to both McFarlin and Williams. 

“It took me a moment I was like oh, that’s cool like almost didn’t even really register and then I just flipped and looked at them,” McFarlin said. “They are looking right at me and then we both began screaming at the same time.” 

“It was like a mind-blowing moment,” Williams added. “It was just a whole frenzy of everything.  It was an incredible experience to see and I think it was also just like representing Madras in general, at a really high level.”

The girls were judged in a number of categories. They include acting transitions, characterization, singing technique, singing expression, movement and dance, and execution. They received superior rankings in every category. 

“They started singing and I just got chills all over my body,” Williams said. “Because it was a moment for them because they’re seniors and they are getting ready to change everything in their lives. The amount of emotion that they put into it was like you could feel it in the room.” 

Leading up to the competition though, the girls were not so sure about entering. They got the sheet music late and only had five days to prepare. Williams and McFarlin worked with the two of them to get everything perfect for the competition. 

“We really worked so hard over those like three rehearsals. We worked it to death,” Young said.

Another thing that worked in their favor is the fact the two girls have been friends since sixth grade when they met in band class at JCMS. They got involved in high school theater in middle school and have performed in several shows together. 

“So with our three programs of band, choir, and theater, they’re definitely triple threats,” McFarlin said. “They’re excelling in all three of those areas.”

Johnson and Young will now move on to the state competition which will take place in Salem, Oregon in April. Following that, they will move on to the national competition in Indiana which takes place in June. The two already qualified for nationals due to their performance at regionals. 

“In order to qualify for nationals, in regional, they had to get a superior across the board and they did that,” McFarlin said. 

They will perform the same piece at both the state and national competitions. Nationals takes place one week after they will graduate from Madras High School. 

Both girls credit their success to Williams and McFarlin 

“We just like thank Molly and McFarlin for everything because they came when they didn’t have to, and they helped us and they were just really supportive and we couldn’t have done it without them,” Johnson said. 

“I agree with her. I’d really just like to thank them for, supporting us,” Young added. “They’re very passionate about their students.”

In the Fall, Johnson plans on attending Southern Oregon University to study film production and management. Young plans on attending Oregon State University and being a part of OSU Marching Band. She is deciding between studying psychology, law, or political science

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