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Ex-thespians to reunite for celebrations in honor of retiring PSJA North theatre director

PHARR – As a way to pay tribute to retiring theater director Gilbert Zepeda, PSJA North Early College High School students, staff and former thespians will be having a special final performance of the school’s children show Seussical, Jr. and ending the festivities with a retirement dinner on Saturday, Dec. 19.  Justin


For 37 years, Gilbert Zepeda has dedicated his career to help build the PSJA theatre program everybody has grown to love. Starting his tenure at PSJA High School in 1979 he transitioned his program to PSJA North in the mid 90s and since its inception has been an inclusive, powerhouse alumni and students call a family. Many of his students have gotten accepted into prestigious universities and several have made it into Hollywood. Some prime example of students who serve as inspiration to the school district are PSJA Theatre Alums Cristela Alonzo, who became the first Latina to create, produce and star in her own original sitcom Cristela on ABC and David Barrera who has appeared in numerous television shows, including The Bridge, NYPD Blue, The Big Bang Theory and The Wizards of Waverly Place.


Saturday’s festivities will bring back numerous “Legends”, as Zepeda likes to call his former students. It will be a big reunion to honor their mentor.


“If you think back over the years, the amount of students he's had is unbelievable,” said Bryan Honl who has worked with Zepeda for more than 25 years. "We will have thespians all the way from his first year of teaching and students flying in from all over the United States, as well as Skyping to talk to him. We're excited about the whole thing.”


According to Honl, PSJA North drama assistant director, Zepeda has helped mentor hundreds of generations of students throughout his career and has made a significant impact in the community through the children’s shows, which are live theater productions that include students singing, dancing, and acting.


"Here in the Valley there weren't any theaters,” Honl said of when Zepeda first started teaching. “After that, Zepeda got to the PSJA North High School theatre and that started a revolution. All across the Rio Grande Valley schools started promoting theatre. He's had a tremendous influence on bringing it to the whole Valley, not just PSJA.”


Although they were sad to hear he was retiring, Honl said they felt it was important to recognize him for all his years of service and the impact he has made.


“It’s dual purpose, one is to recognize Zepeda and bring all ex-thespians to give them a chance to say thank you,” said Honl of the celebrations. “And also, it’s a reunion for 37 years. Whether they are from the first year or last year, all ex-thespians share a common bond in that they are all part of this PSJA children show tradition.”


In addition to PSJA North staff, Melba Ramirez Figueroa and other ex-thespians, have been meeting weekly since they first found out about his retirement to plan this weekend’s celebrations. Specially planning a special final show for all ex-thespians and their families to reunite with him.


“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reunite and celebrate decades of changing lives on stage,” Ramirez Figueroa said. “We want to honor him and thank him for all the great memories we have as his former students.”


Besides being a role model for students, the drama director shared that Zepeda has also impacted his life and is grateful to have had him as a mentor.


“Thank you, you’ve been an inspiration. You’ve molded me as an artist and director and provided me with opportunities I would have never had anywhere else in the nation,” Honl said.


Due to limited seating and catering purposes, tickets for the final show and retirement dinner at the Jose “Pepe” Salinas Memorial Civic Center in Pharr are being sold in advance.


Tickets are available for purchase at the PSJA North ECHS Drama Department (500 E. Nolana Loop in Pharr, 354-2360) and the PSJA Public Relations Department (601 E. Kelly St. in Pharr, 354-2027).

The Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court issued a proclamation in honor of Gilberto Zepeda’s retirement on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.