Menchville Theater Students Attend VTA Conference

The Menchville VTA attendants pose on the stairs of the Marriot Hotel. 

From bottom left to top right: Sierra Rippeth, Sophia Ottofaro, Hannah Underwood, Cheyenne Conaway, Elliot Lawler, Kelly Ritenour, Kayla Borczynski, Calder Holloway, Oliver Smith-Nolker, Sophia Bauman, Shelby Woodward, Montel Hagley, Meredith Heath, Nathan Poplin.

Courtney Rice

The Menchville VTA attendants pose on the stairs of the Marriot Hotel. From bottom left to top right: Sierra Rippeth, Sophia Ottofaro, Hannah Underwood, Cheyenne Conaway, Elliot Lawler, Kelly Ritenour, Kayla Borczynski, Calder Holloway, Oliver Smith-Nolker, Sophia Bauman, Shelby Woodward, Montel Hagley, Meredith Heath, Nathan Poplin.

Kelly Ritenour, Clubs and Activities Editor

On the morning of Thursday, October 26th, I waltzed into room 403 with my bags in hand and my hopes high. Finally, the day had arrived. I spotted my friends sitting on one of the tables, sipping coffee and chatting excitedly about their expectations for the trip. We were getting an opportunity to escape from school stress and delve into our passion for acting. Together, we waited anxiously to depart for the Virginia Theater Association Conference (VTA). As we waited, some danced and sang along to songs from Heathers, some paced around the room, and some rushed back and forth to gather their belongings and piece together an outfit for the VTA costume ball.

When it was finally time to leave, we paired off into different cars and said goodbye to Newport News. For the next four days, the conference center in the Norfolk Waterside Marriot would be our home. The VTA Conference is a four day competition convention for theater students. Schools are given a chance to perform in front of other students and a panel of judges. The convention also offers workshops taught by professionals for different areas of theater.

Kelly Ritenour
The view of Norfolk from the Marriot Hotel conference center balcony.

Once we arrived at the Waterside Marriot, we dispersed to attend workshops. My group headed to makeup and special effects. Our instructor, Gene Flaharty, focused primarily on blood and gore. He taught us what kinds of fake blood were best for what sort of stunt or injury. He also demonstrated how to use a bruise palette, and how to make realistic gashes, wounds, and scars.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a performance called “When It Rains,” produced by Appomatox Regional Governor School. The play covered generational differences and the common misconception that millennials are ungrateful and incapable of doing anything for themselves. This theme was portrayed through two characters, a middle aged mother and an independent millennial woman holding a lengthy conversation in the waiting room for the same job interview. Through their dialogue, we discover the true motivations and struggle of each character as they speak up for their generation. After many emotional outbursts and ongoing arguments, the show comes to a shockingly satisfying plot twist that had every teen in the audience cheering with pride.

The last play of the night was called “Second Samuel,” which was put on by Heritage High School. It was about a small southern town in the 1940s coming to terms with a shocking discovery. The narrator of the play was a mentally disabled boy named B Flat. B Flat takes us through the town of Second Samuel after the death of the towns’ beloved piano teacher, Miss Gertrude. Everyone is mourning Miss Gertrude and sharing loving condolences, until the medical examiner comes to the local bar with an announcement- Miss Gertrude had the anatomy of a man.

The news becomes the talk of the town. Everyone is confused and tries to dissect the situation. Some were contemplative, and others were downright disrespectful. B Flat eventually gets fed up with everyone’s reactions and points out that everyone loved and adored Miss Gertrude. He yells about how everyone sees him as stupid, but they’re the stupid ones if they can’t see that Miss Gertrude is still Miss Gertrude.

I ultimately assumed that the play would be about B Flat and the town’s treatment of him, but instead he was just the guiding voice convincing the rest of the town to accept Miss Gertrude for who she was. He simply didn’t hold the prejudice in him to see the situation any other way.

At the funeral, the entire town gathered together, holding hands and singing hymns in memory of Miss Gertrude. The actors’ collective voices were so moving it brought tears to the eyes of any audience member who wasn’t already crying from the rest of the play.

When the production ended, everyone rose for a standing ovation. The applause was deafening, and the joy and love from every audience member was evident in their hugs, tears, and cheering. It was so uplifting to be in a room with people who felt as strongly about these issues as we did. When we filed out into the lobby with tear stained cheeks, we all agreed it was the perfect way to end the evening.

On the second day of VTA, we attended more workshops. I attended one about how to properly distress clothing so that costumes look dirty or ripped when necessary. Our instructor was Jennifer Baker, a scenic and production designer from Old Dominion University. My friends and I also attended a workshop about putting your mind in the state for playwriting. Our instructor, LaTasha Do’zia-Earley, had us grasp hands, close eyes and envision ourselves in scenarios she would call out. After the exercise, I felt lightheaded and weightless. It was a strange sensation to open our eyes and discover that we had never left the conference.

One of the plays we watched that day was Anatomy of Grey. Anatomy of Grey follows a girl named June who makes a wish that her colonial town will be granted a healer so that people will stop dying. Suddenly, a balloon crashes, containing a mysterious man named Galen P. Gray who happens to be an experienced healer. Gray’s methods of surgery, urine testing and bodily examinations are foreign to the townsfolk. June becomes his esteemed assistant and falls in love with the medical world. When an outbreak of disease torments the town, the priest and the people blame Gray for “cursing” them and execute a manhunt. June does her best to help Gray escape. During the chase, the priest collapses due to the kidney stones he refused to let Gray remove. Gray does his best to help him, but his conflicting fear of blood leaves the dirty parts to June. “I didn’t know the healer our town needed was me,” says June.

When we weren’t in plays or workshops, we had a chance to walk around a large conference room and stop by college booths advertising different theater programs. From acting, to costume design, to tech work, there seemed to be an option for everyone. During moments of free time, I also got the chance to socialize with students from other schools and reunite with people from old schools or programs.

Kelly Ritenour
The inside of the college panel conference room.

By the last day of VTA, the Menchville theater students all felt enlightened and fulfilled. However, none of us were ready for it to end. We’d gotten accustomed to our hotel room and the lavish halls of the conference center. It was such a refreshing experience to be surrounded by other theater students just as passionate as us.

Since competition had wrapped up, we attended more workshops. One was a workshop about building characters directed by Julian Stetkevych. He had us walk in a circle and told us to envision our character as he listed off questions and characteristics to consider. He focused heavily on posture, voice, and position as part of our character’s personality. At the end of the exercise we gathered on the floor as different people volunteered for their character to be interviewed by Stetkevych. Everyone had the basic structure for their character, but they incorporated improv when they had to come up with answers to their questions on the spot. It ended with some hilarious results.

After all of our workshops, we walked over to MacArthur mall to shop before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the VTA costume ball. My friends’ costumes required dark black, skin-tight dresses and intricate makeup, whereas mine was complete with a pink dress and a flannel. I’d decided to take advantage of my buzzcut and dress up as Eleven from Stranger Things. A friend of mine had been inspired by the makeup artist at our first workshop, and he purchased some fake blood we used to give me a nosebleed.

Elliot Lawler
A Polaroid of me taken in my Eleven costume before the VTA Ball.


The costume ball was a very uplifting way to end VTA, and a nice condolence for those of us who missed Homecoming to attend this trip. The music was mostly rap and hip hop, until the very end where the DJ declared we would end the night “Theater Kid style” and played One Day More from Les Miserables.

When it was time to head back to Newport News, everyone was rightfully tired, but still sad to leave. For the last four days, we’d bonded as a group, learned new ways to adapt our talents, found possible colleges that provided our interests, and, most importantly, did all of it surrounded by nerdy theater kids like us. On the bright side, when we returned to Newport News, we discovered that Second Samuel had won VTA. The Menchville Players are excited to attend VTA again. Now that we know what we’re up against, we will be ready to compete next year.