GCHS Theater Department recieve national honors for Hamlet


By Brett Marshall

On Jan. 4, Garden City High School Theater Director/Teacher Barbara Hilt was with some of her students at the Kansas Thespian Festival.

During the day, she received an email that left her nearly speechless and also shedding tears of happiness.

The reason for the emotional response to the email was quite simple – Hilt and her students had just been invited to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the International Thespian Society’s 56th Festival the week of June 24 to 29 at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

“It’s the top honor that high schools can receive for performing at the nationals,” Hilt said just a few days after receiving the invitation letter from the national office in Ohio. “We’re just so amazed because we didn’t get selected for the state festival for the play.”

There are 14 cast members who will travel with Hilt and her other assistant directors – sisters Robyn and Alice and Andie Alvarado. One graduating senior from the crew will be unable to participate, necessitating a freshman to replace that one cast member.

When the GCHS theater group performed Hamlet at GCHS in late September (27, 29, 30), two national adjudicators from the International Thespian Society were in the audience, evaluating the performance and completing detail forms that assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the performance.

“I think one was from the East coast and the other from the West, and they were very complimentary, very favorable in the way they saw our performance,” Hilt said. “We will take a lot of their comments and suggestions and incorporate those into our performance this summer.”

About two weeks prior to the performance in Nebraska, Hilt said the theater group will perform its 105-minute version of Hamlet in Garden City as a fund-raising event to help defray expenses for the cast and crew to travel to the international festival.

Hilt said there had been 11 other crew members involved in designing and making costumes, working in the booth and backstage during the September performances.

“There were another 30 more who helped with costumes and scenery for the play,” Hilt said. “We’re so happy to see a Shakespeare play get this recognition. It’s been one of out major objectives since coming here (she’s in her seventh year at GCHS) for students and others to find value in Shakespeare.”

When the troupe attends the event in Nebraska, they will perform twice, once in a larger theater and the other in a smaller venue, Hilt said. In addition, she said there will be workshops with various professionals from Broadway companies and at the university level to explore career opportunities for those interested students.

The honor is believed to be a GCHS first for a full play to be invited to the International Festival, and just one of only eight schools nationwide that was invited this year. Two other schools are from Kansas – McPherson (Noises Off) and the Kansas All-State Troupe in Olathe (Bring it On). The remaining schools include two from Pennsylvania, and one each from Maryland, Texas and Oregon.

Hilt said that since GCHS students were out of school over the holiday break when she received the email notification, she had to contact the cast and crew in person, by phone or by email. Thus, it wasn’t until the students returned on Jan. 8 that they were able to discuss it as a group.

“Obviously, everyone is so excited by this honor and opportunity,” Hilt said. “We have an incredible group of students, and I’m fortunate to have assistant directors who are totally committed to this kind of production. We just want people to learn how to appreciate literature and to understand and appreciate what Shakespeare has meant to the arts.”

Hilt said plans were already under way to sell t-shirts and hoodies as fund-raisers to help the students defray some of their personal costs to the festival. USD 457, Hilt said, will underwrite some of the expenses, and the International Festival also will provide $1,800 for production expenses and another $800 for travel expenses (cost of transporting sets). Otherwise, all meal and lodging expenses will be the responsibility of the students.

The Educational Theatre Association is an international association with more than 135,000 active members. EdTA’s mission is shaping lives through theatre education: honoring student achievement in theatre; supporting teachers by providing professional development, resources, and recognition; and influencing public opinion that theatre education is essential and builds life skills.

EdTA is the home of the International Thespian Society , an honorary organization established at nearly 5,000 schools, that has inducted more than 2.3 million theatre students since its founding in 1929. EdTA also produces the International Thespian Festival and publishes Dramatics magazine in print and online for high school theatre students, and Teaching Theatre, a journal for theatre education professionals. The Educational Theatre Foundation is the philanthropic arm of EdTA.

For more information, contact Barbara Hilt at bhilt@gckschools.com.

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