The Aztec High School PlayMakers recently competed in the New Mexico Activities Association's State High School One Act Plays competition, held at San Juan College, and brought home the state championship. The 20-member group took first prize for its performance of "Locked In," by Jane and Jim Jeffries.
The drama centers on a woman, Grace, who is afflicted with "Locked-In Syndrome," an illness in which a person is completely unable to move but can hear and understand everything around her. Revealed in flashbacks, the story follows Grace's husband and father as they debate whether to end life support.
Kimmy Blake, 17, has been with PlayMakers for two years and starred as Grace's conscious thoughts.
"We were the last school to go on stage (during the competition) Saturday," she said. "But we finished with a full standing ovation and we were told that people were crying in the bathrooms."
The performance is the second first-place finish for PlayMakers. The group last won first place in 2010 for a production of "Early Frost," by Douglass Parkhirst.
"We owe this all to our director," theater arts instructor Sidley Harrison, said Charles Dobey, who starred as Grace's husband in "Locked In." "There's the students' ability, of course, but her gift is taking incredible care of us, tirelessly, day after day, she fine-tunes us with her wealth of experience and sends us on stage and lets us go to startle our audience with our performance."
Dobey's reverence for Harrison's leadership is shared among the group.
"We are known around New Mexico thanks to her," said Courtney Anthony, 16, who took home honorable mention prizes for her sound and production design efforts for "Locked In." Anthony has her sights set on attending Colorado Mesa University, in Grand Junction, Colo., when she graduates and attributes her calling in theater to Harrison.
"Being a part of this amazing group of people has really changed me," Anthony said. "If someone here isn't in it fully, they're gone, and I've grown to see my part in this as so important to me."
Commitment is a prerequisite every member lives and breathes and Harrison manages to keep their spirits and energies up.
"Around 85-90 percent of the class have a 4.0 GPA," Dobey said. "Which is only amazing if you see just how driven and active we are each day. It's more of a job — something we thrive on and believe in — than a class," he said.
"We joke that we've sold our souls," Blake said.
Stage manager Shane Kirkland, a senior at Aztec High, finds it possible to shrug off the pressure to ensure a quality performance with deadpan humor: "I'm totally responsible for totally everything," he said.
Kirkland was singled out for his efforts Saturday, though it wasn't in the form of a trophy or ribbon.
"A business manager for Creede Repertory Theatre handed me her card after we won," he said. Creede is a professional theater company located in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. "Essentially it's a high-caliber internship, and I have PlayMakers and Mrs. Harrison to thank for that."
The group is already in rehearsals for "Miracle on 34th Street," which will run at 7 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at Aztec High School. Admission is $5 or five cans of food for a local food bank. For more information, contact Harrison at 505-334-94141350 or by email at ahharrsi @aztec.k12.nm.us