ST. PETERSBURG — A cast of 35 students from John Hopkins Middle School (JHOP) presented “GodSpell Jr.” last Friday, April 29. The show ran for three nights and was comprised of two alternating casts, which gave more students the opportunity to perform. The production was directed by 18-year-veteran drama teacher Andrida Hosey.
All theatrical productions have a unique backstory and “GodSpell Jr.” was no exception. John Hopkins’ Principal Barry Brown asked Hosey if she was ready for the challenge.
“Yes sir,” replied Hosey.
And what could that challenge be? The hint was in the title of the production.
“I had some students who were atheists and they went and put up a petition and took it up with the assistant principal,” said Hosey. They students told her God had no place in public school.
Countering in classic Hosey form, the seasoned director said: “This musical is a story and each musical is a story, and this story just happens to be about a man named Jesus. This is a universal piece, so it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is just as long as you are telling a story,” she protested.
The opposition countered.
“Mrs. Hosey, nobody’s going to be in this play!”
“You know what…I can do it with five!” Hosey responded.
Not only did the production have two full casts, but it was also supported by dancers from the dance department and the JHOP band.
On with the show
Hosey commented that the show “planted seeds of tolerance, of loving one’s neighbors, of praying for your enemies and doing good for one another.”
The drama director said that the variety and strength of voices that the students exhibited this year helped lead to the selection of “GodSpell Jr.” She also stated that the challenges students face in schools also contributed to the choice of the production.
“Now more than ever when you hear about bullying and kids being mean to each other, we just thought this [production] would be a great message to present at this time,” said Hosey.
The colorful cast burst onto the stage with exuberant energy that was sustained through two acts. The clothing and songs, such as “Day by Day,” reflected the time period of the late 1960s to early 70s. The most captivating moment occurred towards the end of the production during the reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. The use of strobe lighting was executed superbly and caused many people in the audience to gasp as they could not help but imagine the cruelty of an execution.
Aiden Anderson, who played the role of Jesus during matinee performances on Thursday and Friday and the evening show on Friday, shared what the experience did for him as a young performer.
“Playing that part made me feel as a leader because it’s such a big role and telling everyone to be kind and loving to one another,” said Anderson. “It made me feel like I needed to spread more love and kindness to people and less negativity towards everyone.”
Anderson’s elation over getting the part of Jesus in the play was followed by uneasiness.
“I was a little on edge about it, but once I got into it then it was cool,” he said, explaining that one of his most memorable moments in the play was performing the ensemble piece “Day by Day”.
Stasia Green performed “Day by Day” on Friday evening. Her mother, Linda Franklin, reflected on her daughter’s excitement in getting the role.
“I remember how excited she was to be doing this play for John Hopkins because normally a play like this isn’t done in a school,” said Franklin.
Cara Reynolds, the mother of Aria Reynolds who alternated with Green in singing “Day by Day,” shared what it was like a week before the production debuted.
“A week before the opening of the show you feel it’s never going to pull itself together, but then magically it does,” said Reynolds.
This is a well-known phenomenon prior to the opening of theatrical performances called pre-performance jitters.
“Everybody pulls it together and they become a team,” said Reynolds, who is also the 2015-16 Thespian Booster President. “It’s an ensemble piece where everyone is on stage the whole time, so they really had to work together.”
Reynolds revealed that the cast had performed at the Saturday Market two Saturdays in a row prior to opening night at JHOP.
After the show last Friday, cast members and parents celebrated at the after-party at Tropicool, located at 2246 Central Ave.
“I got into hosting the John Hopkins theater kids thanks to Sharon, one of the moms,” said Stephan Cerf, the owner and ice cream chef at Tropicool.
The students had a chance to relax in the store’s lounge area as well as on the ice cream double-decker British bus parked outside the parlor. Cerf said that he has hosted the after-party for the last two years and hopes to continue doing it in the future.
As for Hosey, she is already percolating future theatrical possibilities for the 2016-17 school year.
To reach Allen Buchanan, email firstname.lastname@example.org