Theatre at Coleman High School by Director Lise Landis Hopson
John A. Coleman Catholic High School has enjoyed a long reputation for excellent theatre. It began with the formation of Children’s Theatre over thirty years ago. The school has been producing two major musical theatre productions each year for 23 years now, with musical theatre (Broadway shows) in the fall and Children’s theatre musicals (geared for the family) in the spring. Occasionally we depart from this format, however, such as when we presented the long-running, international hit “Les Miserables” in April of 2008.
I began directing and choreographing shows at Coleman as a volunteer in the spring of 1990 with the musical “Oliver!”, working with former music teacher Wayne Cusher. Since I joined the faculty officially as the music teacher/chorus director in 1997 after Mr. Cusher moved to North Carolina, I have also produced and vocal-directed the musicals here. This April’s production of “Hello, Dolly!” will be the 41st Coleman musical that I have directed. It is an extremely gratifying job to watch young people develop and flourish emotionally and intellectually through the performance and production of musical theatre. I have witnessed many a shy, ungainly freshman come into the school, take part in his first musical, and over the years develop techniques, skills, and confidence, transforming into a poised upperclassman performing leading roles. Many of our students continue performing onstage or working in technical fields behind the scenes in college and beyond.
Theatre is an endeavor requiring self-discipline, concentration, imagination, and cooperation. An entire family of students, as well as an army of parents, work together in all capacities – as actors, singers, dancers, costumers, on lighting, stage crew, publicity, set construction and painting, sound crew, props, make-up, and marketing. We begin our fall show the first week of school and go year round, beginning the spring show when the fall show closes. Most of our actors are also members of the Coleman Chorus, which performs two large, staged and costumed concerts each year – at Christmas and a Cabaret in May – and sings for all the school Masses and ceremonies as well, such as Graduation, Baccalaureate, community appearances, etc.
All of this activity makes for a lot of “togetherness” among the students in the music/theatre department of Coleman. We all have a great time together, making memories on a daily basis. There is an incredible amount of work involved – tons of rehearsals, long hours, difficult music and complicated dancing to learn, nervousness, racing against the clock, and exhaustion, but most of all there is excitement and fulfillment, laughter and joy. The students bond with each other so closely during the shows; it is so rewarding to see them support each other, help each other, and grow with each other. The final performance of one of these huge musicals (we present six performances of each show) is always an occasion for many tears and hugs. Before the closing performance each spring it is a long-standing tradition for our graduating seniors to sit on the stage in front of an audience of their colleagues, each take the microphone, and deliver their senior speech, in which they recount the warm stories, funny anecdotes, and special memories they’ve accumulated doing theatre at Coleman, expressing their gratitude for it all.