NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The College of Liberal and Applied Arts and the School of Theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University are preparing to host the Region II Conference 5A UIL One-Act Play Contest Thursday, April 21, in W.M. Turner Auditorium on the SFA campus.

The One-Act Play Contest is a precursor to the UIL 2016 Regional Spring Meet for Region II Conference 5A that will take place on the SFA campus Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23. In addition to contests in journalism, speech and debate, STEM activities, and theatre and film, the UIL offers activities in several other subject areas, including business skills, language arts, social studies and essay contests.

Six plays will be performed back-to-back beginning at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, and acting awards will be announced following the conclusion of the final play that evening. Two plays will advance to the state contest, according to Melissa McMillian-Cunningham, SFA School of Theatre faculty member who is overseeing the One-Act Play Contest.

The state is divided into four regions, and each has schools in 1A to 6A size categories, with 6A being the largest. Competition begins at the zone level and continues through district, bi-district, area, region and state.

"Usually, by the time a school's play gets to region, it has advanced from three contests minimally," Cunningham said. "By the time they get to region, we have 24 schools still in the game that will then get compressed down to eight for the state level - two from each region."

"Even to get to regional contest is super huge," she said.

Three adjudicators selected by the state UIL contest will independently rank each play. Each school will be critiqued.

"It's very focused on theater education," Cunningham said of the process. "It's not just about a contest. It's about supporting theatre in the schools and helping high school students develop their artistic process. This allows students to hear different points of views about their work.'

Schools competing are located in a region from north of Dallas to the East Texas area.

For many smaller schools, UIL is one of the more important activities in theatre for the entire year, Cunningham explained.

"The good thing about UIL is that it really encourages the development of theatre programs," she said. "It gets communities involved with this process as students travel with their plays. It teaches high school students some skills in terms of flexibility, or moving from space to space during a contest, that they may not otherwise have experienced performing a play at home. They get to take their show on the road, which is exciting.

"From my own personal experience, I feel like my initial success with one-act play as a high school director really awakened my administration to the attention that a quality theatre program could bring to our school district," she said.

As the schools tour and judges observe students, recruiting opportunities are plentiful, Cunningham said.

"Hosting this event brings faculty members and administrators to our campus," she said. "One of the great selling points of SFA is bringing people to this beautiful campus and town and allowing students from all these different schools to see what we do here. This heightens awareness of the possibility of these students coming here."

Another benefit for the university hosting the play contest is that it allows SFA theatre teacher certification students to be involved in the process, "so that as they are training to become theatre educators, they will have had this experience as a crew member, or working in the back stage area, that helps them understand the process from a different perspective than they had as a high school student," Cunningham said. "This helps to prepare them to be a high school theatre teacher."

The contest also provides a great opportunity for SFA students and faculty to observe "this level of work," she added.

"I would encourage area high schools to come after school or perhaps to take a field trip to attend and see the work and learn from it, and to support these schools," Cunningham said.

Tickets to see all six plays are $10 and can be purchased in the lobby of Griffith Fine Arts Building the day of the contest.