The house lights go down. The stage lights come up.
The actors take a deep breath and begin. They are taking part in one of the oldest forms of entertainment, the theater.
"I went on stage and felt like I was holding my heart in my hand I was so nervous," said Donnie Linton, a sophomore at Estancia High School.
Last weekend, Linton and students from nine high schools performed at the 17th annual Southern California Educational Theater Assn. High School Theater Festival in Fullerton.
The association is an organization of theater educators, professionals, organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting the theater as art form.
Between October and December of each year, more than 50 member schools have their drama productions judged, and the three best are selected for performance at the festival. In addition, a runner-up six plays are chosen, and individual scenes from each are performed during the festival.
Estancia High School represented Orange County with its full-length production of "The Dining Room," a social comedy that explores the death of the dining room as an institution in the Northeast United States.
In the "Festival of Scenes," Mission Viejo High School drama students performed a scene from "Once in a Lifetime," a play about the adventures of three New Yorkers who migrate to Hollywood in the 1920s to open a boys' school but end up in the motion picture business.
"It was tension and nervousness and excitement all at the same time," said junior Chris Strople, who performed for Estancia High School Sunday afternoon in Plummer Auditorium.
Michelle Frenz, Estancia junior, described performing before such a large audience: "When I first went on I was really scared because it was such a big stage and a big auditorium. Then I felt their (the audience's) presence. They were urging us on."
The actors gave a lot of credit to their director and drama teacher, Barbara Van Holt.
"She's the best director in the world," junior Samantha Fuerbringer said. "We couldn't ask for anyone better."
Van Holt had similar praise for her students. "I was so incredibly proud of them because I knew how hard they worked," she said.
But according to the director, the production did not come off without a few hitches.
"One of the actresses left her costume in the drama room at our school," Van Holt said. "Marcus Walburger, a senior, went back to try to break into the school to get the costume at 2 a.m. He couldn't wait until morning because he had to help put the set up at 8 a.m. Luckily for everyone, when he got to the school, he found that one of the doors had been left open."
For Mission Viejo drama students, their hard work paid off. Many said the feeling they got when the lights came on was unforgettable.
"I was scared and excited at the same time," said sophomore Max Mastrangelo, who won an outstanding performance award for best supporting actor of the festival.
"It was a thrill," junior Natasha Mosoff said. "Dr. (Anne) Vardanian (director) is a great person. It was great working with her."
Mission Viejo's Melanie Caldwell won an outstanding performance award for best supporting actress.
Students also took part in workshops in stage combat, dialects, improvisation, mime and auditioning at Cal State Fullerton.
"All the classes were very motivational," Estancia junior Arielle Lawson said.