An unlikely group of characters shared the stage Friday morning at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Abraham Lincoln paced the stage; Julie Andrews sang well-known numbers from “The Sound of Music;” and Joan of Arc cried out to God from her prison cell.
A total of 34 fifth-graders representing 17 Ellis County schools participated in the Hays Arts Council’s annual Famous Figures final competition. The popular annual event blends the art of both scripted and improvisational acting and script-writing with historical research.
Students are tasked with choosing and researching a past historical figure or current celebrity and providing costumes and props to accentuate their performance. They recite biographical information in a memorized script -- which they write themselves -- and also must remain in character while answering an impromptu question from the judges.
Caleb King’s portrayal of William Shakespeare took first place in what proved to be an especially close competition.
King, a fifth-grader at Wilson Elementary School in Hays, recited lines from a Shakespearean play — all while wearing a historically accurate costume complete with a balding wig. He described Shakepeare’s life journey from his birth in Stratford to a middle-class family to his marriage and later to the stage in London.
“I believe I changed this already wonderful world by writing plays, by writing poems, by acting and — most of all — through my beautiful words,” King said during his performance.
This year’s contest drew a remarkable amount of talent, said HAC Director Brenda Meder. Many of the participants received high scores from the judges, with ties occurring for third, fourth and fifth places.
“We don’t break ties -- we just make more trophies,” Meder said in announcing the winners. “So we’ll be doing that today.”
Other characters included Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, astronaut Christa McAuliffe, Grace Hopper and Florence Foster Jenkins, who entertained the crowd with her notoriously poor opera singing.
O’Loughlin fifth-grader Mason Schleicher took second place in the competition for his portrayal of George Ferris Jr., an American engineer who invented the ferris wheel amusement park ride.
“Have you ever wondered, ‘What if you ever could ride on a water wheel?’ ” Schleicher said during his performance. “I always wondered that as a kid. It’s what made me famous.”
The event is sponsored by the Hays Rotary Club, and the winners of Friday’s contest will repeat their performance at the club’s next meeting.
“I’m in awe and amazed at the incredible talent of these young people,” Meder told the audience. “I’m sure that all of you were very glad you weren’t going to have to be a judge because there was so much brilliance.”