Maharishi School 10th-grader Essa Johnson won the Critics Choice banner, the top award, in the solo mime category at the annual Iowa High School Speech Association All-State Festival Feb. 20 at the Iowa State University Center Ames.
Competing against top performers from around the state, Ms. Johnson's performance, entitled Experiment #392: The Transformation, portrayed a mad scientist engaged in a series of experiments. Her electrifying performance brought the audience to its feet when she finished.
"The room just exploded in cheers when she was done," said Brendan Thomas, who along with Matt Speer, Sophia Medvededa and Laura and Tati Ticciati coached Ms. Johnson and the other students who participated, "The judge was blown away by Essa's precision of movement and facial expression."
“There were so many students at the competition, and they were all the best of the best,” said Ms. Johnson, “All the performances I saw were great! Winning was overwhelmingly exciting, and of course a huge honor, but I just didn't expect it.”
Also making it to the final competition and performing at the All-State Festival was a girls' choral reading group performing Dreams, a lyrical medley of bedtime stories, poems and lullabies. Performers of Dreams were Megan Comey, Coco Clark, Lila Cutter, Eugenia Davis, Grace Fernyhough, Caroline Fulcher, Jackie Goodale, Rachel Hathaway, Essa Johnson, Paavani Karr, Angelia Mahaney, Penelope Makeig, Jonina Thorsteindottir and Chosie Titus. Two groups received honorable mention, an ensemble acting group, performing Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, a story set in Ireland in 1936, and a reader's theater group, performing Fully Committed by Becky Mode, about the hilarious misadventures of a harried reservation clerk at a high-profile restaurant. Dancing at Lughnasa performers were Coco Clark, Lila Cutter, Caroline Fulcher, Angelia Mahaney and Jonina Thorsteindottir. Fully Committed performers were Raphael Gelfand, Olin Knight, Avanish Kuntla, Prasad Monk, Laser Nite, Brendan Park and Bryan Prather-Huff.
Eight groups participated overall, performing pieces that ranged from serious classics to hilarious comedy, with seven of the groups getting top scores at the regional competition and going to state, and four of those making it to the final competition at All-State.
"I was very pleased with all of our entries this year," Mr. Thomas said. Brendan Thomas has experience with the Iowa Speech Festival as both a coach and a performer. He continues the legacy of winning the Critic's Choice Award at the Iowa High School Speech Association All-State Festival. As a Maharishi School student in 1999, Mr. Thomas performed in a group mime at the All-State Speech Festival. He won the Critic's Choice Banner in Choral Reading in 2000 and 2001. The first year he helped coach was 2004 and they won the Critic's Choice Banner in group mime. He returned in 2008 to coach and they won the Critic's Choice Banner for solo mime that year and the banner for group mime in 2009.