FARMINGTON — When the former costume designer at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces quit drama last year, Maggie Simpson stepped up, even though she didn't know how to sew.

Using the Internet, Simpson taught herself to use a sewing machine and made 19 skirts for a high school play.

"It was just the one thing that attracted me the most because I like to draw," Simpson, a high school junior, said.

Simpson entered her costume designs for the Las Cruces city play "Beauty and the Beast" into the Four Corners High School Theatre Festival and New Mexico Activities Association One Act Play Competition, which took place Thursday, Friday and Saturday at San Juan College in Farmington.

Sally Heath, a former San Juan College theater director, started the competition more than 20 years ago.

"People say it's one of the best in the state," said festival director Mollie Mook-Fiddler, who is also the college's theater instructor.

Mook-Fiddler said a lot of the students who attend come from smaller schools and haven't had the experience of performing on a real stage. Instead, many of them have been acting in school cafeterias.

"Their enthusiasm is kind of contagious," Mook-Fiddler said.

Nineteen schools attended this year's competition, which is more than in any of the previous years.

The schools compete for a trophy and banner from New Mexico Activities Association.

While schools often receive trophies for athletics, this competition allows them to receive a trophy for the arts, said Linann Easley, the Henderson Fine Arts Center director at the college.

"That's my favorite part, watching the kids hoist that trophy and banner," Easley said.

For some students, the theater trophy is the only chance they will have to bring a trophy to their school.

Piedra Vista High School junior Holly Fox is unable to participate in contact sports.

When Fox was 18 months old, she received a heart transplant after her original heart became infected with strep. Later, at age 4, she had her second heart transplant after strep infected the first transplant.

Now, Fox doesn't have a sternum and has to avoid being run into in the halls.

Before she started her freshman year, Fox attended Round Up River Ranch in Gypsum, Colo. The ranch provides children who have chronic or life-threatening conditions with a camp experience. It was while she was attending camp that Fox was first introduced to drama.

She has been doing drama ever since, performing in Piedra Vista's production "Down With Love" last spring, and she is currently in the high school's play "The Odd Couple."

Claire Blackwell, a student at Corrales International School, acts out a monologue entitled, "The Gift", on Thursday during the Four Corners High
Claire Blackwell, a student at Corrales International School, acts out a monologue entitled, "The Gift", on Thursday during the Four Corners High School Theater Festival and New Mexico Activities Association One Act Play Competition at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

She said her favorite part is "getting to be part of the process and having the feeling of accomplishment at the end."

The festival also provides various workshops taught by industry professional in areas such as dancing, puppeteering, fractured fairy tales and melodrama.

Farmington High School theater instructor Steven Clark said he attends the workshops to learn from the professionals. But Clark also enjoys seeing what other high schools are doing.

"It's a great opportunity to see work by other groups of young people," Clark said.

Farmington High School junior Blessing West said she had fun meeting people at the festival.

"Theater is all about the people," she said.

At last year's festival, West performed a monologue from "The Merchant of Venice." This year, she attended as part of the running crew and the director of the one-act play, which will be a vignette from the high school's recent production, "Almost Maine." West said theater provides an opportunity for her to take a break from studying.

"A lot of my classes are really focused and structured," she said.

Art classes, theater and orchestra allow her to express herself, West said.

"I think theater is all about self-expression," she said.

She explained that society tries to force people to conform to a certain label.

"When you get into theater, you can be anything you want," she said.

The festival provided a plenty of categories for students to express themselves, from monologues to duets and musical theater, as well as set and sound design.

The schools can win awards in the One Act Play competition, and the individual students can win in the various categories. Winners were announced Saturday.

Palma Tavennev from V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho took second place in humourous monologues last year and returned this year to compete in humourous monologues. She said she prefers humourous to serious monologues because she likes to make people laugh.

Tavennev said she attends the competition in order to have a good time.

"After a while, it's not about winning or losing," she said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.