LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Senior Brian Birks was key in helping Pinelands Regional High School continue its run of success in state theater competition.

The Pinelands Thespians won three of six categories at the Secondary School Theatre Competition program held by the Speech and Theatre Association of New Jersey in conjunction with the New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.

It is the eighth year in a row that Pinelands Regional has clinched multiple Governor's Awards, adding to a winning streak of more than 120 awards in the last eight years. The awards event is held annually each winter at the Rutgers University theater facilities.

Birks, 17, of Tuckerton, was the high school’s first student to win a Governor’s Award and the first to win three awards. This year he continued his winning streak.

“The fourth time around winning was really exciting, and I just broke the school record. We’ve had a lot of success over the years,” Birks said.

His fourth award at this year’s competition last month was a first-place title for a comedic monologue performance from the play “White People” by J.T. Rogers.

The play is about a college professor of remedial history who has a black student in class for the first time, said Birks, whose number one choice for his next acting endeavor after graduation this spring is the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

“I wasn’t always in drama club. I joined drama club in fifth grade. It really came around in ninth grade when I got my first role and knew from that point on that this was what I wanted to do,” he said.

Last year, he won in the same category — another first for Pinelands as a back-to-back winner, he said.

“This is it. I won’t compete ever again. It was difficult at first. It’s been a very cathartic experience for me. It’s one of those things that you get to prove that you’re good at doing something that you love,” he said.

“It’s really been something, “ said Chuck Miller, Pinelands theater teacher and director of the Pinelands Thespians. “When I came in my hope was to win like one award every once in a while, but to have eight years of multiple winners. It’s been something. It’s been really fun.”

The work that goes into preparing for the competition was affected by Hurricane Sandy late last year, but the club managed to pull it together and compete, Miller said.

But it’s not just about acting, it’s learning about commitment and who they are, he said.

Birks and his fellow students competed against 22 schools from across the state and about 160 other students in his category alone. Winners will receive their gold medals at the award ceremony in Trenton, Mercer County, in May.

Fellow 17-year-old senior Corinne Levy, of Tuckerton, also took home a Governor’s Award, her third first-place finish during her high school career, Levy said.

“I really want to become a famous actress, and I know that sounds cliché, but that’s my goal. I want to be able to win an Oscar one day,” Levy said.

Levy’s third Governor’s Award this year was for a dramatic pairs performance. Last year she took home first place in comedic pairs, along with a best actress award, she said.

“It’s definitely a little heartbreaking for me because I feel like I just started a few years ago, and time has passed so quickly. And now it’s over like that. I was in denial for awhile, and it finally hit me, and I was really upset,” she said.

Birks and Levy will perform in ‘Les Miserables’ later this month at Pinelands Regional High School. The show will be presented Feb. 28, March 1, 2, and March 7-9.

Contact Donna Weaver:


Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver