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Tale of Two Champions: Eastside collects sixth straight state title

Submitted by Brandon White • Jan 6, 2020 at 10:30 AM

To win a state championship is an amazing achievement. To defend five straight titles in a row with different students and different variables in every play is almost unheard of. But that’s exactly what happened when Eastside High School was announced as the 2019 VHSL Class 1 champions on Dec. 2.

The Spartan One Act Team, with its performance of “The Swan Queen of Berlin County,” brought home its sixth straight state championship.

And talent must run deep in Wise County. Because it wasn’t the only trophy to make it back to Southwest Virginia. Central High School, with its breathtaking show, “Mockingbird” directed by Coach Jan Thompson, captured the VHSL Class 2 state title. 

That means Wise County schools captured two state titles in One Act competition on the same day — a reflection of the talent of the coaches and students, as well as a dedication to excellence in their respective programs.

Hosted by Monticello High School, the state theatre festival welcomes the four best schools in each class from across the Commonwealth. Teams earn the right to compete for the state title with their success in regional and super regional rounds of competition.

Stakes are high, but Eastside coach Shane Burke and his talented group of students from the Coeburn and St. Paul areas were up for the task. On the night before competition, Burke spoke to his students about his experience leading them.

“The amount of pride I have for each one of you is ridiculous. I love doing this with you. There is no one I would rather do this with than you. It comes from a place of pure love,” Burke said. “No matter what part you have, it is a beautiful thing to make art together. We created this entire show from nothing. How lucky am I? You all are incredible. This year, as a group, we got together and did this beautiful thing that has never been done before. And it is so, so good.”

“The Swan Queen of Berlin County,” penned by Burke, tells the story of Clarabeth Shuler, a talented dancer whose career is impacted by both her family and her health. Jillian Hall portrays Clarabeth in her later years, while Sarah Burke showcases her younger days in flashback sequences. There are intense dramatic moments as her story is revealed piece by piece until the audience finally understands the depth of both her sorrow at what she’s lost, but her joy in what she has found in return.

Katie Levy plays Clarabeth’s mother and sings a beautiful melody to comfort her daughter. Clarabeth later recalls this song and sings to her own daughter, Sarah, who is played by Olivia Adkins. Hadassah White plays Nurse Ann, a humorous character who is struggling through life and finds a common connection with Clarabeth in their love of dance. Malik Jallow plays young Clarabeth’s dance partner while Dalton Lawson portrays her father in flashback sequences. The ensemble uses dance, interpretive motions and freezes to characterize Clarabeth’s emotions, memories and physical limitations with discipline, poise and grace.

Eastside’s roster has three seniors in its ranks: Jillian Hall, Dalton Lawson and Dominic Sluss. Other students participating were: Leandra Addington, Olivia Adkins, Alexa Amthor, Tayler Banks, Sarah Burke, Landon Diets, Joe Evans, Mikey Farmer, Cassidy Funk, Chelsea Gibson, Jasmine Harvey, Malik Jallow, Kennedy Kilgore, Madison Kiser, Catherine Levy, Kaitlyn Maine, Mara McDaniel, Cage Meade, Dallas Meade, Jesus Rea, Caitlyn Shepherd, Erica Simmons, Joseph Tankersley, Nathan Tankersley and Hadassah White.

Eastside won first place in all three round of competition this season and secured several outstanding actor awards along the way. Olivia Adkins and Jillian Hall won two each, while Sarah Burke and Hadassah White each won one.

“State championships are hard to come by,” Coach Burke said. “We have to work harder and harder each year. There are so many good teams who bring incredible shows every year. You can’t ever stop working to make yourself, your program and all these students better.”

Many of the students take part in Forensics and have already started working to prepare a state title defense in that competition as well. In addition, Elsa and Anna will bring Arendelle to the stage this spring as Eastside theatre students present “Frozen: The Musical.”

The team is currently accepting donations to help pay for championship rings. To follow their program or learn how to contribute, like and follow Eastside High School Theatre and Forensics on Facebook.

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