SSHS theater group invited to perform play driven by character, moral values at state convention
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Jan. 14, 2007 - It's "Houston or Bust" for 27 Sulphur Springs High School thespian students who have been invited to perform the production "No Sex, No Drugs, JUST Rock 'N' Roll"  in front of hundreds at this year's Texas Educational Theater Association (TETA) State Convention, to be held Jan. 18-20.

"I knew last year when we started putting the show together that we had something special," said Dawn Magness, the theater teacher at Sulphur Springs High School for the past 16 years. "I told them this is a mission. We could get to go to state with this. They were just ecstatic."

With subject matter aimed at drugs, premarital sex, drinking and driving, as well as peer pressure, Magness and her students knew they had something more than entertainment.

"They believe in what they are doing, and it comes straight from their hearts," Magness explained. "And THAT makes all the difference."

The conception of the program began when Magness, at the TETA Convention 5 years ago, saw a production "Voices Unmasked," directed by her old friend Victoria Spangler. According to Magness, the performance focused on bullying, stealing, drugs, etc.

"Basic character and moral value issues," she explained. 

Each year, Magness' theater group performs various skits and productions throughout Hopkins County classrooms during Red Ribbon Week. Last year, while pondering the possibilities for the drug awareness week, Spangler's production came to mind.

"It just really got in my mind and I thought, 'Let's do this,'" Magness recalled. "I just started writing a bunch of raps and monologues, ideas for duet scenes and things like that over the weekend."

She said when she went to school the following Monday, she presented her students with a list of ideas for a program that incorporated music, dance, mime and other aspects of the arts. She asked them to come up with a story line and write their own monologues.

"They were so gung-ho about it and they really stepped up to the plate," she recalled. "To 'Just Say No' is not enough nowadays. You've got to show these kids results. Like mock disasters, this is a re-enactment of real life situations teens deal with every day."

Stomp/clap routines, pole twirling and Latin dancing intertwined with humorous commercial breaks lighten the serious content of the program.

"You know right away the show is going to be very energetic and entertaining," assured Magness. 

As word of the high energy, influential show spread, Magness' colleagues from near and far began to encourage her to submit a proposal to perform the production at the TETA, also know as the annual TheatreFest.

In November, with no real thought as to the expense of taking 27 theater students to the Houston convention for three nights and four days, Magness sent in her proposal.

It was accepted almost immediately.

"I received a fax right away saying write down all the details-you're in," laughed Magness. "Only two schools in the whole state were invited to perform. 

"And we're one of them," she added proudly.

At that point, Magness began to put a pencil to the money that would be needed to cover the cost of expenses.

"We had to get a bus, hotel rooms, meals; I thought, 'There is no way. Lord, what am I gonna do?'" Magness remembered. 

At the news of the  acceptance, Magness called on an old friend, Billy Sam Elliott, for advice. He immediately suggested approaching District Attorney Martin Braddy about using money confiscated in drug busts.

"I guess you could say he [Elliott] was our liaison," Magness said.

Braddy was all for the idea, so much so, that he said they would fund the whole project, if necessary.

That was not the case. Also jumping on the band wagon were Sulphur Springs chief of police Jim Bayuk and the police department, John and Eydie Ginn on behalf of all Sulphur Springs attorneys, the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce, and Ocean Spray Cranberries. One student actor's grandmothers made a donation, as well. 

"The community was very helpful in making this possible," said Cindy Welch, the fine arts secretary at Sulphur Springs High School, who also has a son performing for the first time in the production. "For these kids to actually be apart of this convention is a big honor."

Twelve of last year's original performers graduated, so Magness had to quickly hold auditions to fill the roles and modify the monologue to fit its new actors.

"That's the beauty of a show like this," Magness explained. "We can adapt it from year to year to the person playing the part and make the monologue fit what THEY would say."

According to Magness, the show is part representational and part presentational. At times the students step outside their roles in the scene and talk one on one with the audience to deliver a message about making the right choices in life.

The community is invited to see the production free of charge at the Hopkins County Civic Center Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 16, the evening before they leave for the convention.

´┐ŻAs Magness was inspired by Spangler's production, she hopes "No Sex, No Drugs, JUST Rock 'N' Roll" will inspire others at the convention to go home and share similar productions with their own communities.

"That is the whole point," said Magness. "We'll have the opportunity to encourage teachers and students from all over the state of Texas to take home this idea and write their own programs. We are so excited to be able to do this."

The students will perform in Houston at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20.

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