HARLINGEN — They’ve done it again, and they may just do it again.
For the second year in a row, the Harlingen High School South drama team has taken first place in the UIL 32 6A One-Act Play District Contest. Now they’re preparing to deliver their performance at the bi-district level in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo. They hope to take their performance to the state level in a couple of months.
“I feel proud, humbled, and happy that I experienced it with the team,” said Aaron Blount, 14, who was named all-star cast for her performance in a one-act play adaptation of “33 Variations.”
The play by Moises Kaufman tells the story of fictional musicologist Katherine Brandt, performed by Aaron, a freshman at Harlingen South. The work parallels that struggle with the life of famed German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven, played by John Duncan, 18.
“The 1800 timeline follows Beethoven the composer while the modern day timeline follows Dr. Katherine Brandt, and she’s a musicologist who is obsessed with Beethoven’s work,” said Duncan, a senior at Harlingen South.
“The play is a really cool and fascinating parallel between the two stories, Beethoven going deaf and the musicologist who is suffering from ALS,” Duncan said. “We see their passion and their illness sort of conflict side by side.”
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive muscular paralysis.
South competed against seven other teams from San Benito, Brownsville and Los Fresnos, said Lee Ann Ince, coordinator of fine arts for the Harlingen school district.
“They were just unbelievable,” Ince said.
“All three judges said, ‘This has got to go to state,’” she said. “One judge said, ‘I turned off my lamp, I put down my pencil, and I just watched.’”
Of particular interest were the performances of three freshmen, which included Aaron and 14-year-old Kole Kibler, who also got all-star cast.
“Aaron Blount is one of the leads, and that’s what blew everybody away,” she said. “The judges could not believe it.”
Aaron’s role was particularly challenging, Ince said.
“This is a stretch for her,” she said. “This is a plus 50-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She is such a perfectionist and so obsessed with her work and she knows she’s running out of time. She is obsessed with finding out why Beethoven wrote 33 variations on this mediocre waltz.”
The waltz was written by Anton Diabelli. Beethoven is reputed to have disliked the waltz. Aaron’s character, Dr. Brandt, wants to know why Beethoven wrote so many variations of a piece he didn’t like. But there’s much more to her than that.
“The play isn’t really about her finding out why, it’s about her coming to terms with her illness and her daughter who she thinks is mediocre for having so many jobs and not staying in one place,” Aaron said.
So how did she pull off a performance of a character in her 50s?
“It’s still a work in progress but I kind of study what older people act like and how they walk,” she said. “It’s really less about composure and more about the person.”
She’s enjoyed exploring her character.
“I’ve enjoyed the growth that the character goes through throughout the story, her relationship with her daughter, with her friends, just what she learns,” she said.
Over the next few weeks she plans to learn more about Lou Gehrig’s disease to make her performance more “authentic.” She and the others look forward to taking their performances to bi-district, area, regional and, ultimately, state championship.
Aaron Blount, 14, freshman – Dr. Katherine Brandt
Kole Kibler, 14, a freshman – Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s servant
John Duncant, 18, a senior – Ludwig Van Beethoven
Natalie Perez, 17, a senior – Clara Brandt
Carmela Benavides, a junior – Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger
Jorge Gonzalez, a freshman – Anton Diabelli
Mark Colmenares, a senior – Mike Clark