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CATA theater students take nine awards at festival

The cast and crew of “The Parchman Hour,” from Central Academy of Technology and Arts, take a moment for a group shot.

Theater students at Central Academy of Technology and Arts won best production along with eight other awards at the Southeastern Theatre Conference High School Theater Festival.

“The Parchman Hour” was named the winner of the high school theater festival. In addition, Shidarius Barrett won best actor.

“It was awesome,” said CATA theater teacher Larry Robinson.

The school went to the regional festival two years ago with their production of “For Colored Girls ...” and this is their first time winning the regional festival.

Robinson said that to win the state competition two years ago “was just absolutely amazing” and then to come back this year and win again “it was absolutely awesome.”

The students performed “The Parchman Hour” written by Mike Wiley. It tells the story of the Freedom Riders in 1961 as they attempted to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans and the time many of them spent at the Parchman Farm maximum security prison in Jackson, Miss.

Last year the students had the opportunity to meet one of the orginal Freedom Riders, which impacted their performances.

Robinson said their goal has been not necessarily to win awards, but to tell the story in “The Parchman Hour” and do it justice. He said they “unquestionably” did that.

“(The) goal was to tell the story and honor the work that the freedom riders did ... and unquestionably that has driven them the entire way ... that has really been the driving force for them,” Robinson said.

Robinson said the students were “beside themselves” when they won. In one sense, he said, there was a kind of vindication since they had been there before.

“The work that we had put in over the last several years to get to this point has finally paid off,” Robinson said. “(The students) worked very hard, and they realized that if you work hard...eventually you’re going to be rewarded for it.”

The conference features two plays from the 10 states in the conference, including Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

“It’s very difficult to earn this award,” Robinson said. “You have to be at the top with everything.”

He said during adjudication the judges only had one, minor negative thing to say. 

One judge told the students that even though they were not alive during the 1960s, that night they were there.

“I knew that we had a strong show,” Robinson said. “I just had no idea that we would have the kind of response that we had...to take nine awards at that level is amazing.”

Robinson said their success speaks to the dedication of the students to the work that they do.

Written by: Carolyn Steeves, The Enquirer Journal Education Reporter
Posted: Mar 17, 2014 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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