McKenzie Peacock, who plays central character Jim Hawkins, performs to a Lampasas crowd before district competition. McKenzie’s character drew criticism by a judge who ranked Lampasas High School sixth. Observers said the judge did not seem familiar with the play script or with UIL judging guidelines.
McKenzie Peacock, who plays central character Jim Hawkins, performs to a Lampasas crowd before district competition. McKenzie’s character drew criticism by a judge who ranked Lampasas High School sixth. Observers said the judge did not seem familiar with the play script or with UIL judging guidelines.

Lampasas High School’s UIL One-Act Play “Treasure Island” will not advance past district competition this year, after receiving mixed scores from judges on Wednesday.

The play earned one vote of first place, a third-place ranking and a sixth place by judges. It finished in fourth place. Only the top three advance.

The low score was given by adjudicator Joel Taylor of Waco, and his evaluation has upset not only the actors but some LISD officials as well.

In Taylor’s evaluation, he stated that some nontraditional roles are played by females: “Jim Hawkins at times articulation was a challenge … obviously a girl. The doctor is a woman. Extremely rare at that time.”

The critique about female actresses taking on the male roles seemed misguided, however, as the play adaptation performed by LHS required that women play several specific roles normally reserved for males.

After an open records request was filed by the Lampasas Dispatch Record, the LISD released the nonprofessional UIL license it acquired to perform the play in competition.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” was adapted by Bryony Lavery and submitted to UIL as required by contest guidelines. In the adaptation’s terms and conditions, it states: “SPECIAL NOTE ON CASTING. Women must be cast in the following roles: Jim Hawkins, Doctor Livesey, Grandma, Mrs. Crossley…”

The play is meant to be a gender reversal. A review from “The Guardian” states, “Jim Hawkins becomes a girl rebelling against gender roles in this imaginative adaptation, which keeps alive the wit and excitement of the book.”

In the UIL Theatre’s “Handbook for One-Act Play,” adjudicator requirements and ethical considerations are listed. Among those is the stipulation that judges be granted copies of scripts “unfamiliar and unavailable to you from easily accessible sources.”

Multiple witnesses of the critique Taylor gave said it appeared he had not read the script, nor did he follow judging criteria.

James McLendon, director of theatre arts at Lampasas Middle School, was in the audience Wednesday while the critique was delivered by Taylor.

“He’s going through this, and he’s really picking out two of our female characters, one of which is McKenzie Peacock, who plays Jim,” McLendon said. “And Jim is kind of the main character and narrator for the production. And then the other character which he struggled with was played by Brooke Branum, and she plays a doctor.

“In the older stuff, yeah, it’s typically male roles,” McLendon added. “But the problem was, [the judge] was basing all his critiques off of a different script. [The judge] even turned around and said, ‘I’m sorry I did not read your script.’ At that point we were just flabbergasted.”

Judges who critique the UIL performances based off an original play may not be evaluating the same thing, McLendon said.

“In order to give a viable critique, they have to know the script,” the LMS theater director said. “There are so many different versions of these plays out there; each author may do something different. He was basing something off a previous production or script he knew, but if he would have read ours, he would’ve seen the author for our production specifically called out female roles for those two characters.”

In the UIL handbook, a judge is to “adjudicate what you see rather than comparisons to the same play/movie you saw or directed at some other time.”

The comment Taylor made in his evaluations about women playing in roles that men usually play also seems contrary to the UIL’s criteria for judging.

“Support the League’s advocacy of ‘blind casting.’ This is an educational event, and students should be evaluated based on their abilities and not the circumstances of their birth,” the UIL handbook states.

Another rule states that “a student playing a role identified as being of the opposite sex may do so without violation of any rule, but a female shall be named best actress and a male best actor.”

Taylor also had sharp critiques on the character Ben Gunn, played by student Carmen Ferrer: “Ben Gunn! How old are you? Are you crazy? What is your malady? Why do you act the way you do? Do you believe it? Drumming and clicking overpowers scenes at times.”

The script notes that “Ben Gunn, having spoken to no one for three years, runs ALL his words together … Ben Gunn: Ip ip ip ip ip.”

Nearly all of Carmen Ferrer’s lines delivered as Ben Gunn have extended consonants and vowels, which speaks to the character’s emotional state.

The other judges’ critiques -- which placed the LHS performance in first and third places -- are positive and offer constructive criticism. Judge Jerry Blake stated, “Most of cast had excellent articulation. Some still need work.” Lead judge Kelly Parker wrote in his evaluation, “The whole show has a vibrancy and delightful resonance. Performances are exciting and dynamic.”

Two parents of cast members were in the audience as the critiques were given. Mary Burbey and Julie Figurski said they have been to many shows and contests with their children, and both were dismayed at the judging.

Mrs. Figurski has been to more than eight competitions between her three children – and several of those One-Act Plays advanced to state-level competition.

“It was entertaining the whole time you were watching,” Mrs. Figurski said of “Treasure Island.” “It can’t just be one or two strong actors; it has to be an ensemble, and I believe we had all of that.”

When Taylor started giving the oral critique, which compiles all the judges’ evaluations, the LHS parents thought the play would be advancing.

“He started off reading the other two judges’ critiques,” Mrs. Burbey said. “We heard ‘stellar performances, great visuals, the set was great, the ensemble worked together very, very well.’ The few critiques that we heard were at the beginning; they needed to slow down. Everything was glowing.”

And then Taylor’s score and critique were offered to the troupe, which dashed their hopes for advancement of the play.

Mrs. Burbey and Mrs. Figurski said their children are both juniors, so there will be another chance to perform next year. They felt bad, however, for the students who are seniors, and both parents said they would be willing to appeal the judge’s score.

“It feels like they were robbed,” Mrs. Figurski said. “I think [LHS Theatre Director] Greta [Peterson] deserved better. They put on a very well-performed play, and to have it just end like that!

“I know [losing] happens,” she added. “It’s one thing when you lose to somebody that is deserving of it, but it’s another when you lose to someone not deserving of it.”

Lampasas Superintendent Dr. Chane Rascoe commented on the play Monday morning.

“Our kids and staff worked very hard and did an excellent job on the performance,” he said. “We have started the appeal process to have the [District Executive Committee] review the evidence. We will go from there.”

The Dispatch Record also attempted to contact UIL Theatre Director Luis Munoz for comment. He replied to an email: “I am forwarding your request for information to our media department. They are currently out of the office and have Spring Break next week. They will get back as soon as possible.”

“During the summer, each questionnaire is read and reviewed by committee. Good work is recognized, and recurring problems are addressed,” UIL Media Coordinator Kate Hector said in an email. “Copies of the responses, with directors and school names omitted, are provided to the judges so they can be made aware of their work with the schools.”

According to Taylor’s membership profile on the Texas Theatre Adjudicators and Officials page, he has been certified since January 2013.

Requests made to the TTAO about Taylor’s history with the organization and if there have been any complaints filed against him were not answered by press time Monday.

There does not appear to be a remedy for Lampasas High School in disputing its ranking. The school will remain an alternate for bidistrict competition behind Leander Glenn, Salado and Liberty Hill.

Parents have sent emails to Munoz, and others are encouraged to send more. Munoz’s email is Lmunoz@uiltexas.org.

“Our district is one of the largest ones,” Mrs. Burbey wrote to Munoz. “Most districts have just six shows, with three advancing, but we had eight shows. In my opinion, it would be reasonable to send four shows to Bi-District.”