PHARR – As is now tradition, the Fine Arts Department at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) has kicked-off the 37th annual Children’s Shows season. This year’s live musical theater productions at all four district comprehensive high schools include Disney’s Peter Pan Jr., High School Musical Jr., Rodger & Hammerstein's Cinderella and Seussical Jr.
The PSJA ECHS Thespians, PSJA North ECHS Theatre, PSJA ECHS Wolverine Theatre and the PSJA Southwest ECHS Theatre productions include students singing, dancing, and acting, as well as support from a behind-the-scenes technical crew of teenage aficionados.
According to Jon Taylor, PSJA Fine Arts Director, the shows provide a very special experience for families in the PSJA and surrounding communities.
Each year the shows draw in thousands of people throughout the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), something that is rare in high school theatre, according to Gilbert Zepeda PSJA North ECHS Drama Director.
“An hour before the show starts, there’s a line in the parking lot of people who want to see these shows with their families,” shared Zepeda who has been with the program since its very first children's show in 1979. “That’s very unusual for a Hispanic community, especially high school theatre.”
This year, PSJA ISD kicked off its shows with Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. at the PSJA Southwest Early College High School on Oct. 29. As part of their efforts to bring something new each year to their audiences, the production included special effects by ZFX Flying Effects.
According to Sergio Sauceda, PSJA Southwest ECHS Drama Director, PSJA students and the community can expect great talent and flying effects during their show this year. The show’s last two performances are today Monday, Nov. 2 and Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 7 pm.
“We have a good group of seniors this year who can sing incredibly,” said Sauceda who has been working hard with a theatrical rigging system of ropes and harnesses to provide a theatrical illusion during the production. “They're going to be flying through the house.” (Behind the Scenes Footage)
In addition to evening performances open to the general public, the high school productions perform during the day for PSJA second through fifth grade students. The PSJA theatres’ success is due to district-wide collaboration with high schools and elementary schools and the support from various leaders, according to Gilbert Zepeda.
“We have the whole community and the district’s support,” said the PSJA North Drama Director. “This involves all elementary schools, their principals and the support of the superintendent.”
Due to the high interest of the community in the shows each year, ticket prices are kept low at $5 to $7 so entire families can afford to attend the magical shows despite their limited means. In addition to the locals, the plays have also become an attraction to Winter Texans.
According to the directors, the high school students performing in the children’s shows inspire younger students to try to follow in their footsteps.
“The heroes for our kids in this community are our kids,” smiled Zepeda. “We create the heroes and villains on stage. In this district, it's a big deal for the little kids to get the autographs of all the actors, and they aspire to get to high school to get into these productions.”
While at many school districts theatre is often an extracurricular activity, at PSJA ISD children’s shows are part of Theater Production, a class that is now offered during the evenings to allow students with conflicting class schedules to participate. Although theater production gives students the opportunity to unleash their creativity, students are required to pass all of their classes in order to participate.
Participating in the theatre productions while maintaining their grades teaches PSJA students to be responsible, manage their time wisely and communicate effectively—skills that make them valuable when applying for colleges. The class attracts a diverse group of students as even cheerleaders and football players audition and often get casted.
“Colleges aren’t just looking for students who have advance credits but kids who did something else,” said Jon Taylor the Fine Arts Director of extracurricular activities. “Whether it’d be participating in the theatre program, athletics or whatever it might be.”
Already the PSJA theatre program is seeing the fruits of their labor as numerous students have gotten accepted into colleges each year and several have even made it into Hollywood. Some prime example of students who serve as inspiration to the school district are Cristela Alonzo, who became the first Latina to create, produce and star in her own original sitcom Cristela on ABC and David Barrera who’s appeared in numerous television shows, including The Bridge, NYPD Blue, The Big Bang Theory and The Wizards of Waverly Place.
“Over the last 37 years we have become one of the biggest shows in Texas,” said Zepeda with a smile. “We’re really happy to be doing it.”
This year, community members and students can enjoy nights of magic and fun as the PSJA high school theatres will be performing their productions through the following dates:
· Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. by PSJA Southwest Theatre (Oct. 29 – Nov.3)
· Rodger & Hammerstein's Cinderella by PSJA Memorial ECHS (Nov.16 – Dec. 5)
· High School Musical Jr. by PSJA High ECHS (Nov. 19 - Dec. 13)
· Seussical Jr.by PSJA North ECHS (Dec. 3 – 18)
For a complete list of times and schedules, please visit psjaisd.us or the district’s Facebook page for updates.
Due to many productions scheduled this year, PSJA invites students and the community to attend for a night of magic and fun. The school district looks forward to continue offering these annual live theater productions for many years to come.