Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Formula to the Success: How Lafayette H.S. Theatre Became State Champions Two Years in a Row

This is the 15th consecutive year that theatre director Suzan McCorry has taken the Lafayette High School theatre program one-act team to the VHSL States, where they won the state title the past two years in a row. (Courtesy of Suzan McCorry)

WILLIAMSBURG — Lafayette High School theatre director Suzan McCorry describes her theatre students as “problem solvers.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed curtains for performing arts everywhere, theatre troupes like Lafayette’s were forced to think outside the box.

Lafayette’s theatre program has been to the Virginia High School League (VHSL) State Theatre Festival fifteen years in a row; taking home several state titles. It was in the last two years, however, that the program has consecutively been the state champion.

Winning the 2020-2021 state title for the play, “Any Body For Tea?,” was its own success, as the entire event was virtual.

“That was a really unique challenge for us. But we’re problem solvers in general. I think all theatre students need to be problem solvers,” McCorry said. “I still am very proud of that one because the coronavirus did not keep us down. It just elevated us to want this really badly.”

This past December, Lafayette theatre traveled to Charlottesville for the 2021-2022 VHSL States with the 35-minute play, “The Tin Woman.”

“This year it was live,” McCorry said. “We always had to wear masks for rehearsals. And we were able to take the masks off for the live production for the regional and state meets if we chose to. I gave that option to my cast of eight actors. I really wanted them to make that decision as a group. And they all decided, ‘well we worked really hard, they need to see our expressions and faces.'”

“The Tin Woman,” which features a team of 32 students in the cast and crew, is a dramatic show with a touch of comedy and based on a true story of a heart recipient named Joy who is feeling guilt that someone else had to die for her to receive the heart.

“The Tin Woman” was written by playwright Sean Grennan, who McCorrry credits as a large part of the show’s success, as he took time to Zoom with her answer her questions about the play.

The play won best ensemble and outstanding actor for student Jayne Howlett.

Six of the eight actors, Howlett, Elias Agguinni, Reagan Schlimme, Ashleigh Dale, Madi Walk and LT Centolaza, previously won major awards at the regionals level in November.

The driving force, perhaps, behind Lafayette theatre’s success is McCorry, who has been the theatre director at Lafayette for 15 years.

“I make students aware at the beginning, this is a commitment, this is like a job,” McCorry said.

McCorry has worked for WJCC theatre for 23 years. She previously worked as the theatre director at Toano Middle School for eight years.

Prior to taking on the theatre director role at Lafayette 15 years ago, the theatre program had only gone to states once in the late 1990s, but did not place.

McCorry believes that her rehearsal schedule is part of what makes the program so successful.

“I always tell the students, we can get away with less hours of rehearsals. No Saturdays, cut it down to 2:30 to 4 p.m.,” she said. “However, from my experience, it might give us more of a mediocre result because we’re putting in mediocre time. So we have to put the time, the commitment and the practice in.”

McCorry found joy in being able to bring her students back to live theatre.

“These kids needed live theatre,” she said. “They get really excited to end the school day and go right to the auditorium.”

11th grader Reagan Schlimme and 10th grader Elias Agguini in “The Tin Woman.” (Courtesy of Suzan McCorry)

Many of her theatre students wear different hats in school, with several of her students balancing play rehearsals and sports teams.

McCorry’s key for students to become a better actor: join the forensics team.

Lafayette’s forensics team, which McCorry also coaches, has also seen success, recently winning two big meets.

McCorry does not see a difference between forensics and theatre.

“Forensics, to me, is so theatrical,” she said. “I always tell the students in the beginning of the year, join forensics. It will absolutely make you a stronger actor, because you’re using every skill, you’re using your oral communication skills, creative problem-solving skills. You come out with much more confidence and better acting skills. It leads you to be an overall a better actor on stage.”

McCorry also praised the talented theatre students and directors throughout the school district.

“I absolutely believe that all of our WJCC school theatre programs are so incredible, and that’s because WJCC has amazing theater directors,” McCorrry said. “Our middle schools are so strong. Those middle school theatre teachers are putting the fire in those young sixth, seventh and eighth graders.”

The state champions are not done performing.

The program has a Valentine’s show coming up on Feb. 11 and 12. A romantic-comedy, “Almost, Maine,” is open to the public.

Then in April, the program will perform its spring musical, “Guys and Dolls.”

“It’s a Broadway classic,” McCorry said. “It has fun, vibrant colors, 1950’s costumes.”

Coming off of a win at states, McCorry’s primary goal as a coach is to teach her students discipline, leadership and self-confidence.

“I love it so much,” she said. “I cannot wait until 2:15 when the bell rings and it’s time for rehearsal. I really enjoy coaching and helping students become successful, whatever that means to them. Whatever level they want to get to, I want to be there as their coach and mentor, and help them in any possible way to achieve that.”


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