A group of famous Disney characters, who are frustrated with their jobs at Epcot, have accidentally set off a chain of events that will fulfill the Mayan doomsday prophecy and cause the world to end on Dec. 21, 2012 - unless they can figure out a way to stop it.
That's the basic premise behind an eight-minute play that's been continually fine-tuned since August by one of Lake Norman Charter School's Odyssey of the Mind teams.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students in kindergarten through college. More than 800 teams from around the globe will compete in this year's World Finals tournament, which runs today through May 29 at Michigan State University. Thousands of teams throughout the U.S. and about 20 other countries participate in the program.
Lake Norman Charter is one of only two North Carolina high schools that had more than one team qualify for this year's event. There are three age divisions in the tournament and each team must solve one of five possible long-term problems, as well as a spontaneous problem, for which teams have about five minutes to prepare a solution.
A team problem
One of Lake Norman Charter's teams will solve the "Return to the Gift of Flight" problem, for which it had to make and operate a series of aircraft that have to complete a variety of flight plans. The other team will solve the "Discovered Treasures" problem, for which it had to create and present an original performance that includes the discovery of two archaeological treasures. Each team will compete against about 50 other teams in their division for their respective problems.
Teams are given their long-term problems several months in advance and perfect their "solutions" while participating in regional and state competitions. To make it to the World Finals event, Lake Norman Charter's teams beat 11 other high school teams throughout the state during April's state competition and three other teams during March's regional competition.
"This is the most competitive region in the state," said Jill Marquis, a third-year Odyssey coach for her son's team. "The caliber of performances from the Charlotte area are incredible and the fact (N.C.) sends so many teams to the finals says a lot."
Both teams came in first in their respective "problems" at the regional competition. At the state competition, the "Discovered Treasures" team took first in their division and had the highest score in each category. Teams are judged on overall performance, character development, creativity and how they use sound and movement, among other criteria.
Marquis' seven-member "Discovered Treasures" team is co-coached by Rich Bovard and Cheryl Messick. It will go up against teams from Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Singapore and throughout the U.S.
"To watch the kids take something from the concept to presentation is so rewarding," Marquis said. "But the whole thing is about the process. They have to learn to think differently. These are the kids that, in 10-15 years, will cure cancer or solve our climate issue. They approach a problem with divergent thinking."
The students, who are not allowed help from their coaches, have logged an estimated 700 hours working on their performance. With a $125 budget, they've built all the props, designed and made all the costumes and wrote the entire play.
Two of the more unique props include a fully-functional, two-foot-square, scale model of a Rubik's Cube made out of cardboard, and a hand-carved Mayan calendar artifact made out of Styrofoam construction insulation. The costuming, which is fairly intricate, is crafted out of plastic tablecloths.
Long, fun hours
Drew Marquis spent about 80 hours designing and constructing the Rubik's Cube. The Mayan calendar artifact took about 60 hours to complete. Each of the seven costumes took about eight hours to complete.
This is Lauren Francis' first year with the Odyssey of the Mind team. The 15-year-old said the team's play is not only fun to watch, but she enjoys doing it.
"I look forward to coming to do this," she said. "It's sort of an escape. The best part of the show is the music. It's fun to dance and sing but we make the Disney songs our own."
Laura Fortner, 16, has been involved with Odyssey for five years. She also will be the team representative in the World Finals' opening ceremony.
"Our strong point is tying in two unrelated objects through riddle, and it's really relatable," she said. "Our weak point is probably the originality of our characters."
Drew Marquis, 15, also has been a part of Odyssey for five years.
"It's really fun and I've made the best friends through this," he said. "I don't know what I'd do with my weekends without this. So much work has gone into this. We've spent eight months building this."