December 10, 2023
Local News

Drama kings: Sterling to double-dip at state once again

Students to compete with play, group interpretation this weekend

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STERLING – Abby Langner, Collin Zollinger, Kinsey Zacharski and Evan Lobdell are all members of both of Sterling High School’s state-bound theater groups: drama and group interpretation.

When the latter takes the stage at 5:25 p.m. Friday to perform “Benny & Joon” in Sangamon Auditorium at University of Illinois in Springfield, the quartet will quickly know how things are going to play out.

“There’s this feeling right before you go onstage together, that you’re all one being, almost, one body that tells the story,” Zollinger, a senior, said. “It’s one of the best feelings ever.”

“It’s all of us kind of meshing together,” his classmate, Lobdell, said. “There’s kind of that feel when you’re on stage, and you can feel everyone really connected together – especially for GI, because it’s such a group event.”

The drama group will have to listen closely to find out how it’s doing. After unloading its contest play set at 7 a.m. Saturday, the group will take the stage at 9:45 to perform “Veronica’s Room” by Ira Levin, a.k.a. the guy who wrote the twisted psychological horror “Rosemary’s Baby.” If the group hears gasps, they’ll be onto something.

“That really lets us know that, ‘Yes, they got it,’” Langner said. “It’s very twisted and very sick.”

The most reliable indicator of success will be whether they get to perform again about noon Saturday in the finals. The awards ceremony will follow. Both the drama and the group interpretations team took fourth place at state last year. This is the 21st and second consecutive year the school has made state in group interpretation and drama, respectively.

“There’s something we’re doing right,” Langner joked. “I don’t know what it is, but something’s right.”

For her, nothing sets the tone better than the Thursday evening walkthrough on the massive stage, which is big enough for all the state competitors to get a sense of the space at once. It’s crucial for the crews to get a good feel for it, since they’re also judged on the speed of their setup and teardown.

This is Langner’s third go-round, her third at state for contest play.

“Every year, I have to stand there, look out, see those seats and know that, ‘We’re here to tell a story, we’re here to do what we need to do, and we have made it to state for a reason,’” she said.

That’s precisely the feeling her coach is hoping the teams experience upon arrival. Jill Price bristles a bit at the term “relaxed.” It’s better than tense, but not ideal.

“Tense isn’t good,” she said. “I prefer focused over tense. Confident and focused, those are two wonderful words.”

Price’s student assistant, Maya Reter, is crucial in keeping everyone’s nerves at bay.

“She keeps everything backstage running, and she keeps me sane,” Price said.

“She’s the backbone of it all,” Zollinger added.

The department tailors its performance selections to not only what’s timely, but also the strengths of its talent. Once the group interpretation team picked “Benny & Joon,” they got together for a viewing, and then talked wardrobe. Teams aren’t allowed to use a set or costumes. They get to use blocks and can dress uniformly, so both the boys and the girls sport black-and-white polka-dots during performances. They’ll work together to create shapes with their bodies.

“Group interpretation is one of those things you have to kind of see to get it,” Zollinger said. “Once you see it, you fall in love with it.”

Lobdell, who like Langner and Zollinger also competed at Speech Team at state, said reuniting with fellow competitors at each year’s postseason competitions is half the fun.

That desire for camaraderie breeds a close-knit group. You know, the kind that keeps a 21-year streak going, despite the fact that each of those groups performed in front of unique, subjective judging panels.

“You’re part of a legacy that hopefully lasts for a long while,” Lobdell said.


The Sterling High School theater department will compete at state in contest play and group interpretation Friday and Saturday at Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

The department will compete in group interpretation for the 21st consecutive year, and will perform “Benny & Joon” by Barry Berman and Lesley McNeil at 5:25 p.m. Should the team advance to finals, it will perform again about noon Saturday.

The drama group, which won at the Sterling Sectional on March 19 with Ira Levin’s “Veronica’s Room,” is making a second straight trip to state.

Results will be posted at


SHS contest play presents “Veronica’s Room” by Ira Levin

Cast: Abby Langner, The Woman; Collin Zollinger, The Man; Kinsey Zacharski, The Girl; Evan Lobdell, The Young Man

Staff: Jill Price, co-director; Chuck Price, co-director, set construction, set painting; Connor Price, assistant director, scenic director, set construction, set painting; Ian Wankerl, technical director; Mary Lynn Tedrick, costumes; Maya Reter, student assistant; Cheyenne Smith, lights; Michael Frohling, audio; Kolten Conklen, Madeline Geil, Amber Kuhn, Abby Nitz, Sarah Ogg, Maryn Palmer, Bradley Schlegel, Tim Schlegel, Gabe Ziegler, stage crew

SHS group interpretation presents “Benny & Joon” by Berry Berman and Lesley McNeil

Cast: Abby Langner, Joon; Collin Zollinger, Benny; Evan Lobdell, Sam; Kinsey Zacharski, Ruthie; Kolten Conklen, Madeline Geil, Amber Kuhn, Abby Nitz, Maryn Palmer and Maya Reter, ensemble; Gabe Zeigler, musician

Staff: Tim Schlegel and Jill Price, co-directors