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Arts Like bluebonnets in spring 

If you haven't sampled high-school theater lately, you're missing the perpetual drama of hormones in bloom

The Current asked me to write a "What's coming" article for the high-school theaters in San Antonio, which is impossible to do succinctly or objectively, as I am friends with half of the theater teachers in San Antonio. Most high-school theater departments have not yet cemented their seasons, and the sheer amount of theater that will be produced guarantees a list longer than the Current can afford to pay for. However, my ethical standards do allow me to provide a Perpetual Calendar for the High-School Theater Scene, good for 2005-2026, and applicable to all high schools in the San Antonio Metroplex. For all exceptions, please refer to "proving the rule."

The first show of the season is generally an old chestnut; anything by Neil Simon will do, or a large musical with lots of roles. This strategy tests the water, allowing the broadest possible examination of new talent while testing old talent. Puberty plays havoc on the drama instructor, as teenagers can become different people over one summer break. Great actors have been lost and gained in that three-month chasm.

Dorothy Nelson as Alice (right), testifies before the court in the Jefferson High School's 2004 production of Alice in Wonderland. Clyde Compton as the White Rabbit, Vanessa Flores as the Queen of Hearts, and Shanik Pipkin as the King of Hearts, look on. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

One of high-school theater's best-kept secrets is the forensic tournaments regularly held at the city's various schools. The fierce competition in dramatic and comedic monologues, duet acting, poetry, impromptu speaking, and much more, inspires a brilliant level of creativity and guarantees that the final round in any category of competition, at any tournament, provides incredible performances. These events are well-suited for people with short attention spans, as each performance lasts only eight to15 minutes and includes only the most exciting scenes. If you can't attend finals, just hang around and witness the dramatics that unfold between rounds: It's more exciting than The Apprentice and moodier than Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, and Björk locked together in a closet.

The second show of the year typically is a little bolder, perhaps Arthur Miller, The Diviners or some judiciously cut Shakespeare. At this point, romances among the students begin, and a thousand little dramas blossom backstage.

Between full productions, many departments will hold improvisational comedy programs, reviews, and student-directed shows. Depending on the resources of the department, a school can produce three or four full shows during the year - which build to the central event in the high-school thespian's life: The UIL One Act Play Contest. It's Easter, Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Arbor Day all rolled into one. From the beginning of the year, the conscientious director is planning for this theatrical tournament, examining plays, and perfecting cuttings, casting certain actors in specific roles throughout the year to test possibilities, and doing everything they can to keep actors from failing classes and thus becoming ineligible to compete.

The UIL competition is rife with rules designed to level the playing field for schools with smaller budgets. Each level of competition is judged on four-to-seven 40-minute shows. And variety? Last year the finals featured productions from The Kentucky Cycle to Into the Woods. At each level, the judges give individual awards, whose ceremonies are training grounds for the Oscars, and large shiny trophies are given to the schools that advance to the next level. These awards produce attention and funding, which are the best presents any department can receive. The One Act Play season begins in April and ends the first weekend of May, as do most theater-human relationships.

All schedules for main-stage shows, forensic competitions, and One Act Play events can be obtained from your nearest high school and the prices for admission, when applicable, are cheap.

The Perpetual Calendar predicts that the 2005-06 high-school theater scene in SA will be simultaneously the most ignored, the most punishing, and the most exciting place to view living art. These departments are staffed with trained professionals and eager students and, though they work their asses off, it means nothing without an audience, and the more who come, the more they'll learn. This Perpetual Calendar guarantees that every year there will be dozens of stages to be filled, and at least 20 times that number of dedicated young people who need an audience. So, what are you doing Friday night?

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