Editor's note: "39 Steps" will be performed for the public Saturday evening at 6 in the Southeast auditorium.
Alana Sane considers Southeast Whitfield High School mostly “hidden away” from the community at large. And within the school, the drama department is even more hidden, several drama students said. But Sane’s drama class is starting to make a name for itself.
Four students from Sane’s class — Savannah Cross, Triston Findley, Michael Koop and John Lee — won the Region 7-4A one-act play competition this month, a division that includes nine high schools.
The cast won best show for their performance of Patrick Barlow’s “39 Steps,” a comedy adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller of the same name. The cast also won in the best actor and actress categories, with all three guys winning for one award.
“That’s unheard of,” Sane said.
The drama students are now set to visit Warner Robins on Nov. 9 for the state competition for the school’s second consecutive trip and third in its history. Last year, Sane’s students put on “The Insanity of Mary Girard,” which placed fourth out of 10 schools.
Lee, a senior who was also in last year’s cast, said winning the region competition two years straight is “just unbelievable” and gives him hope for a state win.
“We just looked at each other when they called us up and thought ‘What just happened?’” he said. “It’s one of those things where people think ‘Well, they won one year, but they won’t be back.’ Now we’re back. We went to state once and now we are going twice and that’s not luck.”
For Sane, who graduated from Southeast in 2002 and began teaching there in 2010, winning brings recognition.
“I mean, Josh Ruben at Northwest (Whitfield High School) and Wes Phinney at Dalton High (both drama teachers) — we’re all friends and we talk, but I’m the youngest,” she said. “And sometimes — cause gosh, they both are so smart and know what they are talking about and really know theater — I felt like the new girl.”
Not so much anymore, Sane said, though that does “add some pressure for next year.”
For now, she’s trying to keep her eyes set on winning state with a play that requires no set, few props and “a lot of imagination.” Much of the focus from the judges will be on the group’s acting abilities, Koop said, as they make costume changes to portray 50 different characters.
It’s exhausting, Koop said, but all the work — including long rehearsals into the night — is worth it.
“We get to go to state,” he said, “and it’s such a privilege.”
And, Sane said, it was also a long shot against regional high schools she “thought were going to win.”
“I thought we might make third in the region,” she said.
Now they have an even longer shot in front of them, Sane said, as they head to the state level against “fine art magnet schools” that have plenty of resources and money.
“And here we are, little beaten-up Southeast coming in. And we’re scruffy and it’s awesome,” she said. “We’re still doing it. Our kids don’t take winning for granted. We don’t think it’s handed to us and we work so hard.”
But hard work doesn’t exclude fun, Sane said.
“This is fun and we’re so close. They call me Mama Sane,” she said. “We’re a family. We take care of each other.”
Findley, who was in Sane’s film class, said he never wanted to act until Sane coaxed him into auditioning for “39 Steps.” He said he didn’t realize how hard it would be.
That’s a pretty common perception, Lee said.
“To some, acting isn’t hard,” he said. “Whenever people say that I just want to start laughing. We all have bruises.”
“I got punched in the lip,” Koop said.
“I got kneed,” Cross said.
“I spend half of the play without any feeling in the left hand (during a scene) when I use handcuffs,” Findley said.
Those kinds of accidents come with the territory, the students said, especially in a production Lee called “a very physical play.”
The actors agree most people don’t know how hard acting can be because local arts tend to be overshadowed by high school sports.
“It’s hard to stand out when so much of the community puts so much value on football,” Sane said. “Denise Pendley (Southeast’s principal) is trying to change that. When we won fourth in the state last year, no one really knew. And it’s a really good arts program here.”
And the arts, Sane said, are very important.
“It’s great for us to show everyone how creative and intelligent our students are,” she said.