BOONE – One week before participating in the nation’s largest theatre conference, the Watauga High School Pioneer Playmakers are presenting an encore performance of its award-winning production of “Ernest and the Pale Moon” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, at the Appalachian Theatre in Boone.

It is the last local performance of the play by Oliver Lansley before the troupe takes to the national stage to represent North Carolina at the Southeastern Theatre Conference. The play is being billed as “Edgar Allan Poe meets Alfred Hitchcock” and is recommended for audience members 13 years old and older.

The Playmakers depart for Louisville, Ky., next Wednesday, Feb. 26, where the group will be one of 20 schools from 10 Southeastern states participating in the Secondary School Play Festival. The troupe is nearing completion of a fundraising effort to offset expenses related to the SETC. Miller said that thanks to the generosity of this community, including local businesses and almost 100 individual donors, that the group is closing in on its goal of $20,000.

Watauga High School won the right to advance to SETC in November by sweeping all four major award categories — best production, best director, best actor and best actress — at the state play festival. WHS theater instructor Zach Walker received the prestigious John W. Parker Award for Excellence in Directing, named for the founder of the Carolina Dramatic Association, forerunner of the North Carolina Theater Conference. WHS juniors Elise Bednar and Zeb Scott were both presented Outstanding Achievement in Acting awards for their portrayals in the leading roles of Gwendoline and Ernest, respectively.

“I’m honored to bring one of the first high school student performing groups to the App Theatre,” said Walker. “Laura Kratt and her staff have been so helpful and accommodating in making this performance a reality. The Playmakers feel like this performance makes their trip to SETC — our version of nationals — even more special. We love performing in our space, but having a gala at the App Theatre downtown gives it more of a community feel.”

Each year, SETC invites theater lovers of all kinds — actors, singers, dancers, designers, technicians, stage managers, directors, playwrights, teachers, students, professionals, academicians, etc. — to gather together in celebration of the art of theater. The annual SETC event brings more than 5,000 members of the theater community together for 3.5 days of workshops, keynotes, performance festivals, auditions, college recruiting and job interviews.

This is the third state theater championship for the school, following previous wins for the play “Dearly Departed” in 1999, directed by Trimella Chaney, and the production of “John Lennon and Me” in 2007, directed by Sarah Miller. In 2017, Miller and Walker were named co-recipients of the K-12 Theatre Arts Educator Award, presented by the NCTC Board of Directors to recognize individuals who are active members and have exhibited leadership roles in their community.

Miller added that, “The first time I was in the App Theatre was when I was a little girl and it was a movie theatre. We saw so many films there as a family, so I’ve always had a fondness for that space. Touring it when it was in the construction phase years ago was so exciting — what a revelation for me to know that my favorite theater was originally a live performance space! I’m thrilled to be a part of this performance gala.”

“We are hoping that a full house at our gala performance at the App Theatre will put us over the top. Every single penny we raise is going straight to supporting these young actors and our theater department at WHS. We are grateful to live and work in a community that values what we do in such a tangible, supportive manner.”

Walker said that the response from parents, grandparents and alumni has been tremendous.

“We have more than 40 of them who started this journey with these performers since the ensemble started work on this performance in August 2019. Every step along the way, they’ve supported their actors, this department and the artistic journey that we’ve taken with ‘Ernest.’ Due to their willingness to make this trip a reality by engaging in community outreach, these families have done Herculean work in fundraising, working tirelessly to make sure that I could concentrate on their kids and growing the work,” he said.

Part of the gala performance at the Appalachian will include a video titled “What Playmakers Means to Me,” a personal way to connect to WHS Theatre Alumni. Former students were encouraged to share what it meant and/or what they learned from working in this department on the official Facebook page “WHS Theatre Alumni.” Miller said that their answers to the questions have given insight into what the philosophy of the WHS theater department is all about, providing current Playmakers with a larger historical picture of what past students have experienced, while connecting the present with the past.

Tickets are $15 per person and available online at www.apptheatre.org and during box office hours at the theater for in-person and phone sales at (828) 865-3000. The theatre’s onsite box office hours are from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. weekdays and one hour prior to curtain for each show, depending on ticket availability. The Appalachian Theatre is located at 559 W. King St. in uptown Boone.

Community members wishing to make a donation to the Pioneer Playmakers’ journey to SETC, may send donations via mail to the WHS Theatre Department at Pioneer Playmakers, 300 Go Pioneers Drive, Boone, NC 28607, or donate online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-whs-playmakers-get-to-setc.

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