Along with showing off their talent, a couple of dozen Garden City youths are showing off their city and their heritage.
Members of the Garden City High School drama department were selected to participate in the Kansas Thespian Festival for their performance of “Miss You Like Hell.”
This fall, two judges evaluated the productions of schools that opted to participate. Five shows from across the state were chosen for their superior work and invited to perform at the festival, which took place from Jan. 9-11 in downtown Wichita. During the three-day event, students from Blue Valley Northwest, Garden City, Manhattan, Paola and Pittsburg high schools performed on the Century II stage. Last year, the troupe took Shakespeare to the International Thespian Conference in Nebraska.
“This is a great honor,” said Barb Hilt, the drama teacher at GCHS and director of the show. “They (the students) really work hard.”
Because of Garden City’s diverse population, Hilt decided to choose a play that dealt with issues associated with immigrant communities. “Miss You Like Hell” pulls the audience members into the life of a Latino family. The audience watches the family experience both joy and tragedy while bonding with each other.
Many members of the cast are first- and second-generation Americans. For some of their parents, memories of immigration are fresh.
“For me, this story hits personally,” said Monica Aguilar, 18, who played Beatrice, the mother. “It’s a show that highlights the good and the bad. It’s almost like we’re embodying all the people from our area, Garden City.”
Aguilar’s parents and other family members moved to Garden City from El Salvador. She recognizes many of the issues presented in the musical drama.
“Through many battles and issues, we always come together,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar’s daughter in the play, Adriana Mendoza, 16, sang in both Spanish and English. This was Mendoza’s first time playing the lead.
“It’s a bit scary but super fun,” Mendoza said.
All the performers were honored to be able to perform in Wichita. More than 1,500 high school students, teachers, professors and performers attended the festival. Along with learning skills, a handful of talented students received coveted scholarships.
“It’s a great learning experience. It’s an honor to perform in front of peers,” said Jobe Silva, 17. “It’s really humbling and awesome.”
Before the performance, Hilt gave the group a pep talk and showed them videos from the writer and composer wishing them well. Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegria Hudes, who also wrote “In the Heights,” was excited to have this talented group debut the high school edition of her play.
“Rise to your power,” Hudes said. “You are going to touch some hearts. Break a leg and have fun.”
The students smiled, said thank you, clapped and nodded their heads affirmatively.
“It’s exciting to present something new,” said Nathan Ayala, 18, who played Manuel. “It’s such an honor.”
Aguilar said she is happy to see the issue of immigration being able to come out of the shadows.
“At the end, we’re all human, but the beauty of it is the soul connection,” Aguilar said. “That we all communicate and support each other.”
Seven Garden City students — Seferino Ramirez, Jobe Silva, Laren Hunt, Jairus Lobmeyer, Jared Arellano, Maddie Stout and Monica Aguilar — received superior rankings on their individual events and qualified for the International Thespian Festival in June, which will be held in Bloomington, Ind. The group placed second in chapter select with their one act version of “Prodigal Son.” They also placed second in competitive improvisation. Barb Hilt, Garden City’s drama teacher, was named theater teacher of the year for region 5.
In February, the drama department will perform “Prodigal son,” and in April it will take on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Both shows will be performed at Garden City High School.