This weekend, Armstrong Atlantic State University will confine hundreds of high school students to an 11-foot by 11-foot box.

Tori Dixon, coordinator of Armstrong's High School One-Act Play Festival, clarifies that the box actually constitutes one of the festival's guidelines.

"It requires high levels of creativity (for a high school theater group) to fit an entire set, properties and all cast members in 121 square feet," Dixon said.

The idea is to challenge the participating high schoolers. The box also evens the playing field by "eliminating the issue that many festivals have with more privileged schools attempting to dazzle the audience with huge, expensive sets," Dixon said.

Not to mention that constructing 14 sets in just two days would prove quite the feat to coordinate. Last year's festival featured 11 schools, but Armstrong has expanded its performance slots, allowing for 14 this year.

Local contenders include Savannah Christian Prepatory School and Savannah Country Day School. One troupe, however, will be trekking all the way from the town of Tiger in northeastern Georgia. Armstrong applies the first-come, first-served rule for selections.

"In August, we prepare over 400 interest postcards, which are sent out to all of the high schools in Georgia, and some schools in Florida and the Carolinas," Dixon said.

Each team performs a 55-minute one-act play of its choosing. The plays are held to only one stipulation regarding content: They must be performed bare stage to bare stage, which, according to Dixon, means set-up and removal of sets are part of the time slots.

"If a play goes over the 55-minute time slot, then a whistle is blown," Dixon said. The rules spare offenders disqualification, but deduct two points for every 15 seconds over the limit. Some performances tick down to the wire.

Dixon advises theater-goers to expect the unexpected: Everything from a shortened version of the modern romantic comedy "Almost, Maine," the quirky "Romeo and Juliet: Six Very Busy Days" and classics such as "The Breakfast Club" and Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" are on the bill.

And what's a competition without winners? Judges will award first, second and third place to the group performances. Best actor and actress awards will also be handed out, as well as the prize for best tech crew.

While judges of past festivals have been teachers, this year features Armstrong theater alums from the Savannah area, whose experience "allows for a very fresh, modern take on the shows," Dixon said.

Armstrong theater majors and/or alumni will teach workshops to the visiting students. Topics range from Shakespeare to stage management to cast bonding. Dixon wants students to receive feedback on their performances in order to improve their craft.

"In high school theater," Dixon said, "Students have experiences that are strictly within their school's theater department."

The festival affords students the opportunity to see new plays outside their realm of experience. Students also meet with and learn from working professionals.

Dixon said another plus is displaying the university and all it has to offer. In all, the festival provides high school students with a creative space to express themselves, hone their skills and expand their horizons.

The AASU One Act Play festival is hosted in Armstrong's Fine Arts Auditorium, which has about 1,000 seats. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information email amt.boxoffice@armstrong.edu.