Setting the stage: Senior reflects on UIL performance


Courtesy of SVHS Theater

Senior Chaya Powell (center) as Medea in this year’s one act play “Medea.” Medea is about a woman, who is divine descent and had the gift of prophecy, that seeks revenge against her unfaithful husband Jason.

Annie Osborne, Staff Writer

Sore and exhausted, her eyes puffy from the five a.m. call time, senior Chaya Powell runs through each scene in her mind as she helps preset the stage. The stopwatch will soon start counting, and the one-act play “Medea” will begin. 

Thirty-eight minutes later, Powell can relax. Despite hopes of advancing, this would be the last run of the show – and the last time Powell would take the high school stage as the lead. The cast and crew placed fifth out of the six schools at the bidistrict UIL competition at Cedar Park High School on March 23. 

While the loss was disappointing, Powell and her theater troupe grabbed earlier wins with first out of four schools in zone and third at district.

“We competed in the fourth slot for every competition, which was around 4 p.m.,” Powell said. “The night before each competition, we would have extended rehearsals until 6:30, and then the morning of, our call time was… well, early. 

“And then, we would drive to the school where the competition was held that day, have our official rehearsal, and then wait in the holding room.”

Powell is a member of the production theater class, which produces the annual one-act play for the UIL competition, with theater teacher Casey O’Bryant directing. 

After the yearly fall play is over, the actors barely have time to rest before the rigorous audition and rehearsal schedule begins again, and Powell, who has been in this audition-only class since her freshman year, is no exception.

“To get this role, I first had to pick a monologue, and then go home and rehearse it,” she said. “The next day, we had auditions – this was during finals week, so I was busy taking finals this year. Then Mr. O’Bryant posted scenes that you were assigned to perform with someone. You had a couple of days to work with that person, learn your scene, then we auditioned again.

“After that, he had a few people go back and redo things, re-run the scene, give some notes, all that. A couple days later, the cast list came out. And I was at the top of it.”

Even with this intense schedule, Powell managed to juggle final exams, auditions, and monologues, and still earn her role as Medea, the passionate, child-killing lead. 

“Medea is seen as a really powerful female role, and I just really liked her story, and so when I found out we were doing the show, I was like ‘I really want that part,’” Powell said. “When I auditioned, it was the first time I felt like I needed to get the part. And so, when I got it, I was just pumped, especially since this was my first actual leading role as well.”

Despite working outside of school and staying up at night, she made sure to do the role of Medea justice. The character itself presented some extra challenges Powell had to work through to understand the character and the piece.

“Chaya does a lot of outside character work like creating backstories and researching more detailed personality traits because not everything is laid out in the script,” fellow castmate senior Aidenne Depres said. “Especially in “Medea,” because it’s a Greek show, the wording is not super modern, and so there’s a lot of extra work to be done just to understand what the text is saying.”

Rehearsals took place everyday after school from 3:40 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday rehearsals from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I sacrificed a lot of time to myself to be in production,” Powell said. “I didn’t really get a spring break because we had rehearsals, and couldn’t really do things after school. And my grades. My grades are so bad. I have a 14 in Ms. Leach’s class.”

Missing several days of school because of the competition dates, the actors had days of makeup work to catch up on, which piled on with daily rehearsals. Yet, even with her heavy course load, Powell continued to impress O’Bryant in “Medea.”

“I know that if I give her something to work on, she will work on it, and I know that it’s gonna get where it needs to be,” O’Bryant said. “I don’t have to ask her, I don’t have to stay on her. She’s a force, her presence just fills the room. She’s magnetic, and she’s ridiculously talented.

“In rehearsal I tell her, if you’re not exhausted, you’re not doing it right, especially in this role. She wears herself out with her work ethic. She comes to rehearsals exhausted because she worked at home as well as here.”

Powell’s performance did not go unnoticed by the judges either, as she earned a best actor award at the zone competition. Compared to past shows, this one presented a special challenge as it is a Greek play.

“The process for this show was a lot more difficult because the themes were so much more mature,” Powell said. “You know, killing your kids isn’t something that I’ve experienced, so there was a lot of research that had to go into it, a lot of philosophy that I had to look into.

“We had to learn how to be Greek. Greek theater is very different from contemporary theater. It’s a lot bigger, more dramatic, every emotion is heightened. When you’re mad, you’re at a 10. Every emotion has to be bigger than you think it needs to be.”

Powell’s high school success will not be the end of her acting career, as she plans to attend Abilene Christian University and earn her bachelor’s degree in acting, then follow up with her masters degree. 

“Yes, production is really time-consuming, but it is where I have met some of my absolute best friends, and I have built some really good relationships, and I have learned some really tough lessons,” Powell said. “And I think that’s always true with theater. It teaches you things you would never really learn in a classroom. But when I graduate, I really will miss these people.”