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Elevating Arts

Elevating Arts

The 2015-16 school year saw a new class introduced at Jesuit High School: Theater Arts. For juniors and seniors initially, this year it has been opened up to sophomores as well.

And much like the introduction of the Digital Communications class at Jesuit has elevated the Jesuit Tigers News Network (JTNN), Theater Arts’ entry into the curriculum is elevating Jesuit’s stage productions. For many years, the school has sponsored the Jesuit Masque club, which has distinguished itself with two stage performances annually, fall and spring. But now, with the opportunity to practice both acting and stagecraft as part of the school curriculum, Jesuit’s performing arts have risen to another level.

English teacher and Theater Director Richard Miller is the Theater Arts instructor. In a little more than a year, he has seen Theater Arts, with 14 students enrolled each year, enhance both the arts curriculum and Jesuit student life.

“The notion of a ‘drama club’ (Masque) has a casual feel to it,” Miller said. “Now, Jesuit High School is teaching theater, and we are using that as a means to improve our main stage productions and our showings at thespian competitions. In short, Jesuit is looking like a theater school, and that’s very exciting.”

Last month, Masque performed Agatha Christie’s mid-20th century novel turned stage production “And Then There Were None,” with four shows over three days, from Nov. 10-12. The drama centers around 10 characters who receive an invitation to a small, secluded island. The production, which provided an adaptation from the original novel as two characters survived the twisted fate planned for them, was enjoyed by hundreds over the three days in the MPR on campus.

Masque president Lucas Pasquier ’17 has been involved in numerous shows since his freshman year and rates “And Then There Were None” at the top of his Masque performance experiences.

“In the past we’ve been more comedic,” Pasquier said. “This is leaning towards the more dramatic side which I feel is always a harder role. The payoff is more exciting.”

(Homepage photo, L-R, of "And Then There Were None": Carter Campbell ’19, Lauren Lavery (Academy of the Holy Names), Jack Mahoney ’18, Lucas Pasquier ’17, Alex Peña ’18, Evelyn Martinez (AHN), and Carter Cabassa ’20.

Pasquier played Phillip Lombard, a character Pasquier describes as an “adventurer” who was brought to the island under the promise of a hefty reward for the risk he was taking to protect those around him on the island.

Like many in the performance, Pasquier has benefited from the Theater Arts class.

“I have seen it help some of our more dedicated performers make huge leaps as actors,” Miller said. “This has the obvious benefit of bringing better performances to our stage."

Another experienced Masque performer, George Morgan ’18, played the role of disgraced police inspector William Henry Blore, brought to the island for falsifying testimony in a case that resulted in an innocent man dying in prison shortly after being given a life sentence. Morgan has developed his performance talent in several Masque productions.

“It’s given me a lot of experience,” Morgan said. “It’s taught me how to not just press the pause button and ‘take two.’ It matters what you do on [stage].”

In 2014, Jesuit joined the International Thespian Society, and Jesuit thespians compete as Troupe 8059. Now in their third year of competition, Troupe 8059 – with a little boost from the skill gained by those taking Theater Arts, in addition to veteran Masque performers such as Morgan – has established itself as premier performers.

At the District 9 Individual Events Festival on Oct. 1 at Wharton High School, eight Jesuit students qualified for the State competition this spring. Among those were Morgan for monologues of “A Few Good Men” and “Noises Off,” Pena and Mahoney for duet acting of “Broadway Bound,” and Pasquier and Morgan for duet acting of “The Odd Couple.”

Actors are not the only ones benefiting from Masque and Theater Arts. Pasquier noticed that many students who have entered the class with little or no performing experience have not only come to auditions, but have deepened their appreciation for the fine arts and also expressed a desire to help out in school productions whatever way they can, especially building sets for the shows. The Theater Arts class covers all aspects of productions, including scenic carpentry and set design.

That essential work is done out of the spotlight, for weeks before the production. Jack Garthwaite ’17 took on the critical role of stage manager for “And Then There Were None.”

“It’s given me a good sense of leadership,” Garthwaite said of his first experience with a Masque stage production.

Garthwaite’s skills had been honed at the District 9 competition as well, where he earned top honors in the scene design category for the play “The Curious Savage.”

Miller credits the success of Masque and the Theater Arts class to great support from the students, parents, and faculty. He wants to build on the tradition of excellence at Jesuit and continue to develop the program. Long-term, he would like to add another Theater Arts class, so that one Theater Arts course would be more introductory, and the other would be more advanced, “for the students whose passion is theater, whether it be acting or stagecraft.”

Those taking the Theater Arts course this year are: Guy Alfano ’17, Noah Armenia 17, Greg Bell 17, Phoenix Cardillo 18, Malik Davis 17, Travell Harris 17, Rodney Higdon 17, Dalton Hoffman 17, J.P. Menendez 19, Landon Moody 19, Lucas Pasquier 17, Harrison Redd 18, Robert Willis 17, and Matt Zloto ’17.

Within a few years, the program also is expected to receive a major facilities upgrade. A spectacular new Fine and Performing Arts Center is included in Jesuit’s Campus Master Plan. It will feature significant improvements in space, lighting, and acoustics for stage performances, and house all of Jesuit’s art programs, allowing for greater interdisciplinary collaboration.

Please view a photo slideshow below from Jesuit’s fall production, “And Then There Were None.”

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