The students of the West Orange High School theatre department are making an impact that goes way beyond the walls of the classroom.
The internationally recognized theatre department was recently acknowledged for a multitude of awards and honorable mentions.
The department's Thespian Troupe 1983 will be headed to the Florida State Thespian Festival for its one-act play "Ruby's Story."
The play, which premiered in November, takes place in West Virginia during World War Two. The story follows a family and their experience in dealing with the effects of the war, even from across the world in the United States.
The 33 students involved in the play put together everything in only two weeks.
"Ruby's Story" received the "Critic’s Choice One-Act" award and the students involved will perform at the state level in March in Tampa.
The production also earned "Critic’s Choice Tech" for the "Outstanding Student Design" award to Ryan Chillinsky and the "Outstanding Lead Actress" award to Eislinn Gracen.
Additionally, the show received superior ratings in both performance and tech.
The "All-Star Cast" award went to Annabelle Peebles, who previously earned the same award at the Florida Theater Conference, where the show placed third. The "All-Star Crew" award went to stage manager Alex Battenfield.
Two West Orange students won "Best in Show" for their individual events including Gina DiGiovani for "Solo Musical" and Zachary Miles for "Lighting Design."
Seniors Gracen and Miles also came home with scholarships for their hard-work.
WOHS Director of Theatre Tara Whitman said although the last few years have been challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic and other factors, the students have never faltered in their perseverance.
"I think that this validates the students hard work and their commitment to a program that isn't always recognized as much," Whitman said. "They get so much feedback from myself, the judges and other students in theatre departments to help them learn and grow."
However, "Ruby's Story" isn't the only play making an impression.
The department's "Pippin" fall musical, which premiered in October, has been invited to perform as a Mainstage at the state festival.
"Pippin," which we told you about here, is one of just a handful of plays to serve as evening entertainment to more than 9,000 high school theatre students who will attend the festival.
The story of Pippin’s quest for a meaningful life was originally directed and choreographed by Fosse in 1972. The production retained his flair for the 2013 revival, upon which the WOHS version is based.
Whitman said the production took about seven weeks to put together and has about 65 students.
This year's selection to perform is more meaningful than usual, as Whitman said the students were selected to participate before COVID-19 happened, and had the event canceled one day before loading up to travel.
"It's kind of poetic that we will get to perform in the same theatre where we were supposed to perform in two years ago," Whitman said.
Whitman explained that all of the stage equipment, which the students put together by themselves, will have to be loaded up in one afternoon, taken to the performance, unpacked and set up, taken down, and loaded back up again at the end of the night.
The department has over 100 lighting instruments, 30 microphones, over 200 costume pieces and stage equipment that covers the 50-foot wide stage.
Whitman said the department's next step is focusing on fundraising. Taking both shows to the festival will require about $30,000 to $40,000.
The department will perform both shows in West Orange again in the new year.
The students are also already working on their next show, "Disney's Frozen Junior," which is set to premiere in February 2022.
The ticket sales combined for all three shows, as well as other fundraising events, will help the students travel in March.
"I am inspired by my kids each and every day," Whitman said. "Their resilience and commitment is unwavering and I can't wait to see what they do next."