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  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Instrumental music, drama, vocal music and debate growing at PHS

  • The folks at that New York City high school for the performing arts, made famous in the movie and TV series “Fame,” probably aren’t losing sleep over competition from Pittsburg High School.

    But maybe they should be.

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  • The folks at that New York City high school for the performing arts, made famous in the movie and TV series “Fame,” probably aren’t losing sleep over competition from Pittsburg High School.
    But maybe they should be.
    PHS performing arts programs, including theater, vocal and instrumental music and debate/forensics, have seen an explosion over the past few years.
    “We have approximately 50 percent of the PHS population involved in one or more of the performing arts, which works out to between 375 and 400 kids,” said Greg Shaw, theater instructor. “At least we have had for the last two years. I haven’t done the figures yet for this year.”
    The performing arts faculty, in addition to Shaw, consists of Susan Laushman, vocal music, Cooper Neil, instrumental music, and Julie Laflen, debate/forensics.
    They frequently work together to enhance their students’ learning experiences.
    “Greg Shaw and I team-taught the first repertory musical theater class in the fall,” Laushman said.
    Shaw said that the two had already collaborated on musical productions with theatrical elements with members of PHS Encore, a vocal music performance group.
    “The interest grew so much that we had to do something outside of Encore,” he said.
    The result was an ambitious and successful production of “Sweeney Todd,” which also included some PHS musicians performing along with those from Pittsburg State University.
    Now Shaw, Laushman and Neil are working on a musical that will be a 100 percent PHS production. “The Wedding Singer” will be presented at 7 p.m. March 6, 7, 8 and 9, with a 2 p.m. matinee also scheduled on March 9.
    “All the musicians will come from the students and staff,” Shaw said, along with the actors and backstage workers.
    Laushman and Neil also worked together for two holiday seasons Vespers programs which brought student singers and student musicians together.
    “I’m trying to combine the two groups I direct, strings and winds, to make a different experience for students and explore some new literature,” Neil said. “So you could say I’m collaborating with myself on that.”
    The debate program did extremely well in the fall semester. PHS hosted a tournament that was a national qualifying event, then proceeded to dominate it. As a result, the teams of Garrett Brummitt and Taylor Cronister and Ethan Hawn and Joseph Mathew will be heading to national finals this summer at Birmingham, Ala.
    More recently, the team of Hawn and Mathew brought home a third-place trophy in two-speaker debate from the state competition.
    “To my knowledge, it’s the first debate trophy to come back here in 20 years,” Laflen said.
    Under her guidance, debate/forensics has grown at PHS.
    “When I started, we had 12 in debate,” she said. “Now we have 38.”
    Page 2 of 2 - This semester will be devoted to forensics, and Laflen said she welcomed Shaw’s assistance here.
    “I’m more of a speaker coach than an acting coach, so I encourage students to talk to Greg about scripts,” she said.
    Shaw said that a display cabinet has been ordered to hold the trophies earned by students in the performing arts. However, something more is needed, and that’s an update of the PHS auditorium.
    “The successes of all four programs aided an awareness by patrons that our facilities haven’t been a priority,” Shaw said.
    Fortunately, Pittsburg USD 250 has committed resources to the auditorium, including new sound and light equipment and a remodeled sound booth done over the winter break.
    “If we’re really lucky, this Phase 1 might even include an orchestra pit,” Shaw said. “That would enable us to have more musicians.”
    There’s also “Save Me a Seat,” a program being conducted by the PHS Friends of the Performing Arts and PHS Band Boosters to replace auditorium seats, which are the original seats put in when the school was built.
    “They tell us that the old seats can no longer be refurbished because parts are no longer available,” Shaw said. “Cost of replacement is around $200 per seat.”
    The new seats are needed, he said, because of the increased use of the auditorium.
    “We now do two musicals a year and four plays, along with all the vocal and instrumental programs,” Shaw said. “We want our patrons to be comfortable while they’re watching and listening to our students.”
    Some students will opt to pursue professional careers, while others may simply continue their music or theater activities as an enjoyable hobby. All can benefit from developing the poise and speaking skills that come from performing in front of an audience. There are even financial benefits to them.
    “We’re going to be having more students going on to college on performing arts scholarships,” Shaw said.

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