By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — When it comes to theater in this area and in New Jersey, the Pope John Players have always been recognized as one of the best high school theater groups to hit the stage.
In less than two weeks, the Pope John Players will look to become one of the top theater groups outside of New Jersey when they perform at the 51st Student Theater Festival at the Bucks County Playhouse — America’s most famous playhouse — in New Hope, Pa.
The Pope John Players recently earned its first invitation to the festival in program history. Members of the group are ecstatic at the chance to perform in such a prestigious festival and venue.
“It’s really exciting,” Pope John senior Katie Yarussi said. “We performed two of the hardest shows in Broadway this year for people in Sussex County and in the local area, but we are looking forward to exposing our productions and talents to those outside of New Jersey and showing that we are the real deal.”
The Pope John Players were one of 33 high schools and middle schools invited to the festival, which runs for seven days from April 1, 2, 4 and 8-11, after performing phenomenal productions of “Newsies: The Musical” and “The Phantom of the Opera” this year. Last December, the group put on “Newsies: The Musical” — the first show that featured astudents from all three schools comprising the Catholic Academy of Sussex County: Pope John XXIII High School, Pope John XXIII Middle School and Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School. Two months later, they presented, “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running musical, to open up Sussex County’s spring theater season.
Normally at this time of year, the Pope John Players prepare to showcase their talents at the Sussex County Teen Arts Festival, which they attended on Tuesday, and the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival, which takes place from May 29-31 at Ocean County College.
But, the Pope John Players are eager to perform at the Student Theater Festival at Bucks County Playhouse because they get to show their talents in front of teaching artists and professionals in the field of theater. In addition, the Pope John Players can’t wait to perform in a playhouse that has seen numerous of celebrities sing, dance and act over the years, including Robert Redford, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke, Leslie Nielsen, and Kevin Kline.
“Being in a high school theater group, you don’t get a ton of opportunities to be in front of the right crowds, especially if you want to pursue a career in theater,” Pope John senior Hayley Gagnon said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the fact that we have the privilege to attend an event of this magnitude and boost our reputation is so amazing.”
“We’ve performed at Sussex County Teen Arts and New Jersey State Teen Arts, which are great experiences, but this is really big for us,” Pope John senior Chase Nugnes said. “Knowing the lineage of people who have gone through this playhouse as stage actors, producers, tech crews, etc., it is great to be a part of this history.”
The Pope John Players are also looking forward to the rare opportunity of performing two plays at the theater, as they will present both “Newsies: The Musical” and “The Phantom of the Opera”. Each show will be 20 minutes in length.
“I’m so happy for them,” Pope John Players director Jacquelyn Burt said. “They have worked so hard to perform these shows at the level that they have done this year. This is sort of the ‘festival of festivals’ in this region. It’s hard to get an invitation, let alone be invited to perform two shows. We’re happy to be able to bring both because they are very different. They feature a lot of different kids and different aspects of the performing arts. It will be a whole new experience for us.”
“Being asked to perform both shows speaks for the amount of hard work and dedication everyone puts into this program,” Pope John senior Jacob Huhn said. “Both of these shows are important to us because they embody our program and what make it so special.”
When they go to the festival on April 2, the Pope John Players will attend two one-hour workshops in the morning that will allow them to learn about theater subjects such as movement, dance, tap/jazz, improv, theater games, Shakespearean acting, and audition technique.
In the afternoon, the Pope John Players will perform their two shows in hopes that they will not only gain great feedback on their performances, but also earn any awards for that day and possibly earn an invite to perform in the festival’s “Best of Fest,” which is “a one-night showcase performance for friends, family, and the community,” according to the festival’s handbook.
Regardless of what they hope will happen at the festival, the Pope John Players are happy to be making history for the program by going to this well-known event.
“It’s going to be special,” Pope John junior Brendan Karolchyk said. “I hope this is the first of many trips to the festival that the program will be able to do in the future.”
“I can’t wait to go,” Pope John freshman Adam Nieves said. “This is a great opportunity for us to venture out and experience what it is like to perform at a festival like this.”