The Group Interpretation cast at Homewood-Flossmoor High School won second place in state IHSA competition for its performance of a Greek tragedy updated for the 21st century.
In addition to the runner-up win in the IHSA competition, eight of the 11-member all-female cast were selected by IHSA judges for the All-State Cast through their performance of “A Dangerous Woman.”
The winning cast was Charisma Boler, Natalie Elfner, Adeera Harris, Starr Holis, Faith Kenshol, Layla LaNier, Emma Leak, Phoenix McCoy, Vicky Olaleye, Jazmin Rhodes, Nia Smith and Emma Steiner under the direction of Janine Stroemer, English teach and coach. Members Boler, Harris, Hollis, LaNier, Leak, Olaleye, Rhodes and Smith won all-state cast honors.
The group had about three weeks to prepare for the presentation. There was no conference competition this year; H-F moved right to sectionals. The feedback there gave Stroemer ideas on how to improve the presentation for state on March 13, including reblocking the whole climax of the play.
To win a spot for state competition, H-F had to place as one of the top six performances from the original 18 schools entered. Taking second place meant cast members got medals.
“I love when my kids feel good about the performance but also get rewarded,” Stroemer said. “Sometimes I think they think ‘What am I doing this for?’ since we don’t have an audience.”
The script was based on the story of Madea, a Greek princess who falls in love, but when her husband leaves her she takes her revenge. To update the play, Stroemer wrote a play that revolves around Maddie, a young woman in current day. As she discusses her future love and life’s concerns, Madea and her compatriots warn Maddie of how difficult life can be based on their experiences.
Stroemer said she brainstormed with students on what their presentation should be. They focused on multi-generational women’s issues and she came up with the concept. Writing it was tricky, she said, because there was enough material for a two-hour production that had to be presented in 30 minutes.
And, the production had to meet pandemic safety restrictions, which meant no touching, no hugging and performers had to be six-feet apart “so we had to design a set that would give us enough room,” Stroemer said. Before the state competition, the distance was reduced to three feet “so that made it a little easier to stage pictures and (for characters on stage) to develop relationships.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, judging for the IHSA competition was done virtually. Teams had the opportunity to perform live via Zoom or provide a recorded presentation. Group Interpretation made a video. It was the first student organization to use the theater space in the new Performing Arts Center.
Stroemer said the cast had just one chance with its recording “just as if you were in front of the judges” but because it was a recording she had to keep in mind how best to make the 11 cast members spread out in a wide area come alive and not appear “too tiny” on the video.
“We had to make our movements bigger and our costumes bigger. We had long flowing sleeves and skirts,” she said. One of the hardest restrictions is “no facial expressions from the nose down. So it was definitely a challenge. I will hope I don’t have to take the challenge again!”