JCA Drama Productions recently wrapped up weekend performances of this year’s fall play: “The Importance of Being Earnest”. For the first time in school history, the production was chosen as a finalist to appear at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, the largest and oldest non-competitive high school theatre festival in the world. Theatre Fest, produced by the Illinois Theatre Association, takes place this year from January 5th-7th on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
JCA Drama director Ms. Jenn Szynal stated, “this is an immense honor and the first time in JCA history. The production staff and parent boosters would like to recognize our students and their talents”.
Szynal has been instrumental in engaging students at the North Larkin Ave. campus throughout her eleven years as a teacher and nine years as drama director; the family atmosphere of JCA especially shines through when looking at this year’s lead cast members.
JCA senior Shelbi Voss was once a freshman and sophomore volleyball player at the school, and has taken her talents to the stage. “People don’t realize how much rehearsal time goes into putting on the play, especially one as difficult as “Earnest”. We put as much time into it as I used to with volleyball, and there really is a competitive aspect. When Ms. Szynal informed us we were chosen for the Fest, I hadn’t felt a family atmosphere as exciting as that before. We feel like we are leaving a legacy, especially considering this is the first time we tried for the Theatre Fest and we got it”.
Voss isn’t the only JCA student that has broken down the barriers of typical high school societal norms. Junior Drew Gould was a football/baseball player at school in his underclassmen years at JCA and changed gears this year, in part due to what he says is an atmosphere Szynal has created on campus.
Gould said, “I want to go into film production in the future, and I felt Drama would be the best route with the chance to act, write, and direct. I tried out for a supporting role and it was shocking to find out I earned a lead. Ms. Szynal is amazing in that she treats every student as she would her child; she’s like a second mother to me. Her commitment to us is amazing; I don’t know how she does it, but she inspires us to have confidence in ourselves every second we are on stage”.
Gould and Voss were joined as leads by junior Jimmy Folino (also a member of the JCA varsity soccer and volleyball teams), senior Bailey Garland, and senior Carley Ostir. While the leads may be the “stars” of the play, they were all quick to point out the entire cast and crew in making the selection to Theatre Fest possible.
Voss said, “We wouldn’t be able to do anything with the crew behind the scenes. They work really hard to produce the play, and while we have all fall to rehearse, the production crew has four days to setup and get this right, making sure everything goes off without a hitch. They work really hard to produce the play so we can do what we do on stage”.
Szynal added, “the Theatre Fest Respondents were truly impressed with the JCA Drama Club. They were very open to sharing with the parents, students, and production staff what they felt about our overall production. What struck me the most from their review was when they made reference to the passion that was exhibited on stage. Both of the respondents said that the students not only performed the play well, they performed from the heart. This was meaningful to me because at their young age, with difficult material, they were able to demonstrate what is at the core of humanity. I am so proud to not only be their director, but to watch them grow through their passion into phenomenal human beings”.