Story by Christina Leslie |Staff Writer
She stands upon the stage, house lights low and audience gazing expectantly at her, but she is anything but ready for her next move. Her inner dialogue is in stark contrast to her confident exterior.
“Am I smiling? What is my next line? Was I supposed to shuffle left, or twirl to the right? Why is the director rolling her eyes? Is that prop door going to stick again when I pull it?
“And did I study enough for tomorrow’s fourth-period math quiz?”
These are the thoughts that the hundreds of high school drama participants might recognize as an interior monologue while performing under the spotlight.
These students who participate in in Catholic high schools across the Diocese learn more than dialogue, dance and stagecraft. What remains after the house lights come up and the last echo of applause fades are the valuable lessons of faith, teamwork, time management and setting goals for the future.
Commitment to Excellence
Red Bank Catholic High School is presenting The Little Mermaid" as their spring musical during five performances through 13.
The students, teachers and staff involved with putting it on agree that while the main course of their Catholic education experience is academics and faith, participating in the arts is far from an optional dessert. Instead, it’s more like a challenging but rewarding side dish.
“The school has policies on the students’ grades not slipping,” Keith Gissubel, RBC’s performing arts co-chairman stated. “A few students can do it all: honor roll, sports, theatre. Some are very open about their academic struggles and we will come to the rescue.”
In his 10 years overseeing student productions, Gissubel has encouraged the students to work as a team towards the common goal of a successful production while focusing their individual energies in a positive way. He sees this balancing act as fitting hand-in-glove with the school’s values.
Students seem to agree.
Maeve Byrnes, a junior, has participated in all aspects of the school’s performing arts offerings as a member of the choir, dance program and theatre. “Through acting, I can empathize with my peers and connect with people,” she said. “The stage has taught me to present myself with confidence.”
Sophomore Baylor Rodman feels he “was born for this.”
“I have interest in politics and public speaking,” he said, adding that
being so involved in theatre had helped to fine-tune his management skills and his ability to get things done.
Audiences are large and enthusiastic, reported Cheryl Thompson, RBC’s director of admissions, especially when child-oriented plays are performed. For this production, Thompson noted that costumed characters will take pictures with the littlest audience members, heightening their experience and perhaps nurturing a future, budding actor, singer or stage hand.
“We always get a full house on the weekends,” she continued. “We never know when judges from companies such as the Papermill Playhouse or Count Basie will come to see them perform, so the kids do their best every night.”
“We choose the shows to be performed with faith first in mind,” Gissubel said. “The plays and plots are weaved into our mission. The moral of a play is very big for me, and I consider what the audience will take away from this.”
One memory in particular stands out among a decade of experience helping lead the RBC drama program, when a student who was cast in a lead role in “Shrek” blossomed through the experience.
“It’s a very outgoing, vocal role, and she was usually a quiet person,” he said. “After the performances, every teacher she had came to me and said, ‘I didn’t even know she had a voice!’ She was able to let go, be bigger.”
Maryanne Kain, world language department chair in St. Rose High School, Belmar, wears an extra hat: she has also served as director of the school’s fall dramas since 1997 and of the spring musicals since 2006. Kain, a St. Rose alumna, cited the dual requirements for the selection of each production.
“We choose our musicals, in part, based on the talent we know we have, [but] more importantly, our musicals must always put forth a positive message of joy and hope, consistent with our mission statement,” Kain said. “Acting on stage allows students to make positive use of the gifts that God has given them. Working in harmony with others and spreading joy to those who could use a little light in their lives is essential to who we are as Catholic Christians.”
This spring, the “little light” Kain and the St. Rose community will spread comes in the form of the musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” based on the classic musical that follows a silent film production company struggling to make the transition to pictures with sound. Performances are scheduled for April 21-23.
The students participating in this year’s musical are quick to sing the praises of the program and maintain the values they learn on or behind the stage will carry them into college and beyond.
St. Rose junior Shannon Beachem said, “Managing this all has proven that I can do more than I think I can! Just with a little push from myself, I can overcome anything thrown in my direction.”
Kelly Schuld has participated in each spring musical of her four years in the Belmar school. In addition to her lines, the senior has learned valuable academic skills.
“The key is to stay motivated and well rested,” Schuld said. “This experience has taught me the value of teamwork and hard work. The show only comes together when everyone gives it their all.”
Every year, the students “learn responsibility, commitment and how to work as a team,” Kain said. “No one player is any more important than any other, and that includes our stage crew and make-up and wardrobe team as well. Each is essential to our goal, and each is needed and valued...More importantly, [they] have fun.
“I have had star athletes come to me after their involvement in our productions and tell me that it was the most fun that they had experienced during their high school years.”
“Generation gap” is a sometimes troublesome label for two groups of people who cannot understand one another. At Notre Dame High School this spring, a generation gap of a different kind serves as a bridge between two sets of students in their love of the theatre and respect for its director.
“Anything Goes,” which is hosting its second weekend of performances March 11 and 12, is celebrating a homecoming of sorts this year for the Lawrenceville school community.
Louis Gibilisco, performing arts and music director in NDHS, first directed the Cole Porter musical about the antics aboard an ocean liner sailing from New York to London in 1995, and is still in contact with members of that cast, crew and orchestra, he noted. A post of the current cast’s practice session on the school’s Performing Arts Alumni Facebook page received such a groundswell of positive reactions that the school has planned an alumni theatre reunion reception before the March 11 evening performance.
“It is gratifying,” Gibilisco said. “Even 20 years removed, this is still near and dear to their hearts.”
A tribute video to the teacher’s 26 years at the high school from the cast and alumni of last year’s production of “Les Miserables” is posted on the NDHS website. Dozens of former students addressed the camera, just a few of the more than 3,000 cast members who had performed during Gibilisco’s quarter-century of service.
They shared a long list of character traits they had learned under his tutelage, traits such as punctuality, persistence, time management, humility, discipline and poise which will also serve them away from the bright lights of the stage. Gibilisco noted that the theatre program is an integral part of the educational experience in Notre Dame.
“It’s a fun and safe place,” said Gibilisco, whose wife, Debra, and son, Louis Junior, are members of the NDHS theatre arts department. “Artists can be viewed as blithe spirits, a bit different. Here, they cannot be afraid to be themselves. They are encouraged, and there is a team of 65 to 70 people with the same goals.”
NDHS alum, Robert Manganaro, is quick to sing the praises of his former high school’s director and the importance Gibilisco wields in his life of music. Now the director of student affairs in The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, Manganaro had appeared in the chorus of “Anything Goes” during its first run at NDHS.
“I could go on and on about [Gibilisco’s] influence on my musical development, but it’s equally as important to note the impact he’s had on me in terms of discipline, drive and not settling for mediocrity,” Manganaro said. “I carry those values and standards with me each day at work, and convey the same message to my students.”