ROCKINGHAM — Gruesome wins.
When National Beta Club judges saw a freeze frame of “Frankenstein” staged by students from Richmond Early College, they knew nothing could top it — not even two other “Frankenstein” tableaux recreating the monster’s coming to life.
That’s because, Beta Club sponsor Jennifer Byrd said Thursday, the REaCH presentation looked like a living diorama: Judges and the public had to peek through the windows of a 12-by-12 “cottage,” inside which Dr. Frankenstein frantically tore apart the bride he had agreed to craft for his monster. (Chapter 20, in case you’re interested.)
“The other Frankensteins were good, but we were going for realistic,” Byrd said. The REaCH students used pigs’ eyeballs, kidneys and other organs, preserved with ethyl alcohol and stored in glass jars displayed in front of guttering candles. (One student’s uncle owns a slaughterhouse.)
“It was pretty gross,” Byrd said, “but it looked a lot better than a bunch of toy pink eyeballs” in jars.
The “living literature” contest is in its third year at the national Beta convention. The first year, REaCH students didn’t place, Byrd said. The second, they snared second at state and a spot in the top 10 at nationals. This year, they won the whole megillah.
The contest requires the choice of a scene from literature. During the convention, students have 30 minutes to construct a scene, which can be as minimal or as intricate as they want, as long as it fits into a 12-by-12-foot square just inches from 32 other squares. REaCH students began building their tear-away cottage in October.
“Everybody’s just berserk” building the sets during the competition, Byrd said, with costumed actors handing set builders tools and construction materials.
After the scene goes up, the costumed students act out the scene, holding their poses for three minutes whenever a judge yells “Freeze!” Their frozen expressions and poses must be expressive if they wish to win. Students spend an hour freezing and relaxing on command as judges and the public gauge their expressions.
Rising senior Tayla Howlett said she was on the construction crew, and things weren’t really that frantic.
“When we would practice it in school, we would feel pressure,” she said. But at the contest, “it got built in 10 minutes” — no pressure.
“It looked really realistic, and it got a lot of people’s attention,” she said. “The whole point is to bring it to life, and we nailed that pretty good.”
The REaCH performance was Monday. On Tuesday, the students found out they were in the top 10. On Wednesday, they were awarded their prize. And on Wednesday evening, they came back from Savannah, Georgia, to a police escort and ceremony organized by their principal, Joy Smart.
The REaCH living literature crew comprised Caitlyn Daniel, Tayla Howlett, Ben Helms, Jordan Lear, Alison Padron, Molly Pike, Lisette Sanchez, Giselle Silva, Victor Thomas, Selena Tran and Katelyn Walker.
Other Beta Club members who placed in the top 10 of their competitions were Skylar Ramsay, ninth place, Division 2 Language Arts; April Gonzalez, sixth place, Division 2 Spanish; Nick Pinto, fifth place, Division 2 Social Studies; and Gisela Flores, fourth place, Division 1 Spanish.