Bishop Gorman makes cut for Thespian Festival

There’s just something special about Bishop Gorman High School’s performance of “Godspell.” Theater students have performed dozens of plays and musicals in the past, but this one is the best they’ve ever done, they said.

They’re not the only ones who think so.

Bishop Gorman was one of 10 schools selected to perform at the annual Thespian Festival June 20-25 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The festival is the biggest event of the year for high school theater and features top acts from around the country. The Educational Theatre Association sponsors the event.

“Godspell,” a musical based on the Gospel of Matthew, is directed by the school’s fine arts chairwoman, Elena Ferrante-Martin.

She and a few of her students attended the festival last year just to experience it. She decided to petition the school’s final show of the year for consideration. Adjudicators came to a performance in March and a few weeks later asked them to perform, not once as is customary but twice during the festival.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Ferrante-Martin said. “Through hard work, perseverance and commitment, we’ve grown. Bishop Gorman is known for a lot of things, and it’s nice that the arts is being honored as well.”

Students already are having daily rehearsals to relearn the play.

“Their theater space (in Nebraska) is much bigger,” Ferrante-Martin said. “We’re going to re-space the show and rehearse it again. We’ll have to add a few things and take away a few things and still try to keep the intimacy intact.”

To simulate the much larger stage in Lincoln, students are rehearsing in the school’s auxiliary gymnasium instead of the theater.

In a couple of weeks, Ferrante-Martin and more than 30 students will fly to Lincoln, where they will give the festival’s opening performance. A moving company will transport all the sets and props.

Paul Ward, a 17-year-old junior, plays the role of Jesus and has been involved in theater for the past three years.

“This was so much different than any other show we’ve ever done,” Ward said. “It became so much more to us than a show. It really gets to you. I’ve been to Catholic school pretty much my whole life. You grow up with these stories, but to actually experience it and experience it with your friends in theater, it takes it to a higher place spiritually.”

A common thread among students was the closeness of the cast and crew in this truly ensemble production. What made this production so special wasn’t the music or script, it was the friendship, they said.

“It was a show where everyone was together,” said senior Riley Altschul, who plays Judas. “It was a show where everyone meant the same thing. Everyone was so involved, it was a big community.

“We haven’t done a show like this. It’s always been a cast show with casting leads. It was just a different feel on stage.”

Altschul plans to attend Columbia College Chicago in the fall and continue to perform in theater.

Senior Nikki Hipolito stepped out of her comfort zone for the role of Joanne.

“I can be very shy, very reserved and not outspoken,” Hipolito said. “So I figured, why not try this character? Joanne is the spunky type. She’s sassy, very outgoing and not afraid to stand up and say what’s on her mind.”

Hipolito will attend Ohio State University in the fall and said this performance of “Godspell” probably will be her final curtain call.

“I just know we’re extremely blessed to have gotten this opportunity that schools all over the country competed for,” she said. “I thought it would be just as good as past productions, but after we were done with it, it was just a shock that it had such a big impact on the community.”

Locals will have a chance to see the show before they take it on the road.

Performances are scheduled for 2 p.m. June 16 and 17 at the school, 5959 S. Hualapai Way. The shows are free and open to the public, and seating is limited.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at or 224-5524.

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