PITTSBURG — PHS theatre, band and stagecraft, just came back from internationals, and have the community to thank, they said.  

In November, Greg Shaw’s Music Rep Theatre class, Cooper Neil’s Jazz Band class, along with Chuck Boyle’s stagecraft class began working on “Urinetown,” a satirical comedy set in a future where a massive water shortage has hit the world resulting in the townsfolk having to pay fees to use the bathroom — which are regularly hiked up.

After success at the state level, the cast was selected to perform at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, which they just came back from. The troupe was one out of 11 groups nationwide selected to perform at the festival.

This trip, however, was a bit on the expensive side with a cost $800 per student.

For 46 students, plus adults, it was going to cost them $45,000 to go to the week long event. They had a little less than six months to pull the funds together.

What once was practice in the classroom during the school day, turned into an almost year long adventure to make it to the festival which included fundraisers — which also served as extra practice time before the big day.

To raise money students performed the musical for the public, they also hosted “Evening with the Stars,” which is a cabaret-style event with entertainment and food. They also performed bits and pieces during community events. Local businesses also contributed a portion of their profits throughout the spring.

With the help of the community the students made their goal and even raised an additional $5,000 to rent a charter bus.

“It was just tremendous our community supported these kids and our program 100 percent,” Shaw said. “It’s remarkable to have raised the amount of money that we did allowing all of our kids to go without personal money spent.”

Shaw said it was a huge effort on everyone's part.

“I think it reinforced to the kids how many people are behind them and wanting them to get this  once in a lifetime experiences,” he said. “I’m pleased, certainly, to know that I teach in and reside in a community that backs the kids and steps up whenever these kids need something — whatever that is, money resources or time.”

Student actor Aidan Harries agreed and said he was thankful.

“I’m super thankful for the opportunity to go,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and I hope to again next year.”

Hailey Denton, lighting and design crew member, agreed with Aidan and said she was impressed that such a small community could raise so much.

“I’m proud to come from this community,” she said.

He said the students had higher sense of accountability knowing the community has given them such an opportunity through the funds raised.

“They knew they were gifted this, so I think there was a higher accountability to make sure they did it right and did it well,” Shaw said.

Not only did the students have the honor to perform in front of Broadway actors, teachers and students from other schools, they also had an opportunity to learn from them.

They took workshops in theatre related topics — including TV, film, auditioning, dance, choreography, costume, makeup and directing.

“It was a huge success, and the I think the students had realized the opportunity they had to not only perform in front of not only a really great crowd and their peers, but also they went to the workshops and had opportunities to learn more about theatre and acting and technologies,” Shaw said. “Even things for band kids — dialects and puppetry — every aspect of a live performance.

“They had an opportunity to go to a week’s worth of workshops.”

Three students took on solos which they auditioned for during an individual event at Wichita during state. These students were McKenna Shaw, Cassie Hurt-McLarty in Musical Theatre and Miranda Madden in sound design, which all three received superior ratings and qualified for the international level — a first for PHS. At Internationals, McKenna and Cassie scored superior.

As far as winning goes, Shaw said being chosen to perform was the “win.”  

The auditorium seated 800 people per show they performed at the festival.

“It was fun because they were a very knowledgeable crowd,” Shaw said. “They were very gracious and appreciative of our work through their applause and laughter and all of that.

“It was a tremendous experience to perform in front of the best of the best.”

Aidan was the character Mr. Cladwell, the lead antagonist and father of lead protagonist.

Aidan said “it meant a lot to be on stage and perform  … it means a lot to be able to be on stage like that.”

He said the musical — after almost a year of performing it over and over — is stuck in his head forever more. But this isn’t a bad thing as when it came to the performances the practice came in handy.

“The amount of liveliness in the theater … when people exploded of laughter is undescribable,” he said about being on stage and listening to the crowds’ response.”

Now that it is all over, Aidan said, it is bittersweet because some of his classmates which he has performed with all this time are graduating.

Lighting and design assistant Hailey  — 2018 PHS graduate — had to help keep track of all 130 light cues during the performances. Although she was in lighting and design, during the event she visited workshops to develop her other skills, she said.

Denton said she has plans to utilize what she has been taught in the future at Pittsburg State University and later, when she graduates with hopes to be an art therapist.

Band member and Euphonium player Carter Uttley said he had an opportunity to learn about accents and dancing while at the festival.

“It was a great opportunity for all of us as musicians and theatre,” he said. “It was a learning experience that was beneficial for all of our futures.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.