B-UHS play advances to Southeastern regional competition, earns gold star rating at state level

Shawnte McWhorter as Raja Englanderova in “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” during a scene.

TENNERTON – Buckhannon-Upshur High School’s one-act cut of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is one of two to advance from state competition to the next stage.

B-UHS received a gold level superior rating at West Virginia State Theatre Association’s High School One-Act Festival  along with Musselman High School. The two schools will now represent West Virginia at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Tennessee Feb. 27-March 3, 2019.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is the heartbreaking story of what happened to children who passed through Terezin Concentration Camp during World War II. It is written by a Catholic nun, Celeste Raspanti, who read the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” with artwork and poems made by children in the camp, was inspired to write the one-act play.

Junior Shawnte McWhorter, plays the main character, Raja Englandernova. Raja was 12 when she entered the camp and was one of 132 to survive the war out of the 15,000 who passed through the camp.

McWhorter and Elizabeth O’Neill were both selected to the all-festival cast due to their performances in the play. O’Neill plays Irena Synkova, the teacher who tried to continue the student’s lessons and later hid the artwork and poems before she was deported to Auschwitz.

McWhorter said, “I’ve done a lot of shows that are not historical, but they are fiction-based and getting to do something historical I feel has way more impact on me and other people,” she said. “You can relate better to that. It actually happened.”

McWhorter researched the events of the Holocaust to help her prepare for the production and feels “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” should be viewed more because of its subject matter.

“I was really proud because for me, it wasn’t about being selected to go because I wanted it, it was just I felt the show should be seen by more people,” she said. “It has a lot of meaning to me and I think people should be able to see it. I was really excited that we got selected.”

Sophomore Richard Williams portrays Honza, one of the few main characters in the cast and the romantic interest of the leading character Raja.

Being a part of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” allowed  Williams to discover more about the Holocaust. “I learned a lot of the things the Jews went through were really traumatizing – especially in the camp of Terezin where it was disguised,” he said. “There were groups that would look around and see how Jews were being treated and they would go undergo inspections. For them to be going through something much worse than the inspector saw and they couldn’t tell anyone about it, I can see why they would be traumatized.

“It’s depressing to see how they had such high hopes for them getting home,” he said. “There’s a part in the play where all the kids write stories for what they are going to do when they are going to get home and it’s a sad thought to know they won’t ever get home.”

Learning that the play had advanced to the next competition was exciting, according to Williams.

“I put a lot of work into this play and so has everybody else,” he said. “It’s a group effort. To realize that we all reached a common goal of giving the audience a realization and taste of what the Jews went through while providing some form of entertainment is such an accomplishment.

“Theatre teaches you how to work with people and if you trip up on a line, you have to learn how to adapt,” he said.

For Williams’ part, he has been rehearsing with more emphasis on his posture.

“Just the way that you  stand can project a number of things to the audience,” he said. “If you have a stronger posture, you can project feelings of anger or sadness to the audience and make them feel emphatic to what the Jews are going through,” he said.

Theatre teacher and producer of the play Jeremiah Smallridge said, “We felt it was important to tell the story. As we look at the world around us, we see some of these ideals still exist and ironically the tragedy that happened in Pittsburgh, I think motivated the kids to do the best job at telling the story as possible. They see it as a story that needs to be told now.”

Also at the state competition, B-UHS received the Distinguished Award for Creative Arts Integration which was created as a result of the show.

To prepare for the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Smallridge said the cast and crew would be polishing everything as much as possible.

“We will work a lot more at projecting and finding what actors call truth in the moment and being able to transport everything more smoothly,” he said.

The play will be performed for the public again in the spring just as it was this fall before the state competition.

This is the second year in a row the high school has qualified for the Southeastern Theatre Conference but the first year they will be able to go.

Last year, B-UHS came in first but other commitments kept Smallridge from being able to take the students. Until scores are released, B-U still does not know if it came in first or second at the state competition.

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