Each year in June, in a theater in Norfolk, the students of the Governor’s School for the Arts graduate. When my GSA friends and I got our diplomas in 2000, I loved how all of the many-colored gowns from the different high schools in Hampton Roads looked like a rainbow of colors.
The young artists sing, dance, act, present their photographs, paintings, and sculpture, and play music together for the last time. Then they head off into the big world to seek their fortunes. This Friday, eleven of those artists are coming home.
They will perform on December 18th at 8:00 p.m. in the third annual GSA alumni benefit showcase at Norfolk’s University Theatre on the ODU campus. The program brings together former GSA students from cities like New York, L.A., and Nashville where they have made lives for themselves as professional artists. They come together to sing, dance, act, and create art for the high school that nurtured them. The evening will open with a pre-show discussion with the performers at 7:00 p.m., and proceeds from the $25 ticket sales benefit the GSA foundation.
The performers choose the pieces they want to present and then meet for the first time on Friday afternoon before the show. Managed by GSA theatre department chair Steve Earle, they create and plan the order of the show, including a finale where everyone sings together. I danced in last year’s showcase with a group of dance department alumni, and it’s hard to describe the energy backstage as all the former GSA students spent the afternoon in the theater, hooting and cheering for each other, collaborating at the tech rehearsals, and talking about old times. It felt like a lot of talent was gathered in one theater, and as Adrienne Warren sang an a cappella rendering of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” I was moved to tears thinking of my years at GSA and the hours I spent as a teenager in the theater, performing and supporting my friends in other departments when they were onstage.
Deborah Thorpe, assistant director of GSA, is thrilled about the lineup of talent this year. Natalie Prass, a graduate of the musical theatre and visual arts departments at GSA, will perform two of her original songs at the showcase. After her debut album came out in 2015, Prass was named one of Rolling Stone’s “Ten New Artists You Need To Know” and one of Time Magazine’s “15 Artists To Watch in 2015.”
Will Liverman, who graduated from GSA’s vocal music department, is a baritone who has been praised by the New York Times as “mellow voiced and charismatic.”
Gabriel Hyman, the youngest performer of the evening, graduated from the dance department and went on to study as a Gates Millenium Scholar in the dance program at Fordham University in New York City. This is Hyman’s first year as a company member at Alvin Ailey II, and he will be performing a solo choreographed by Ailey II Artistic Director Troy Powell.
Tyler Cain, right, a Nashville-based producer, performer and songwriter, will be presenting two of his original songs, one of which will be a duet with Broadway and television actress Mary Faber.
“GSA was the first time I ever experienced a community of creative people who pushed me to realize my full potential,” says Cain. “It gave me courage to pursue a dream, and I attribute a lot of my success today to that.”
Thorpe, who has been part of the Governor’s School administration for all its twenty-eight years, still calls her alumni “the kids,” even when they’re on the far side of thirty.
“It’s really special that the kids come back and want to give back to their high school,” she says. “I think that reflects on the kind of place the Governor’s School is. They’re doing such cool and unique things. They’ve had major careers with major people, on Broadway, in the music business, the opera, and a lot of them are doing their own original work.”
Thorpe says that the alumni showcase, especially the pre-show conversation where the artists speak about their journeys, is inspiring to the current generation of Governor’s School students.
“I think they’re just blown away. I think it gives them the courage to pursue their dreams,” she says.
These performers will be featured in the show:
Matt Caplan: (theatre department) Rent, American Idiot
Mary Faber: (theatre department) How to Success In Business, American Idiot, HBO’s The Brink, Parks and Recreation
Will Liverman: (vocal music department) baritone, has performed with Opera Philadelphia, Gotham Chamber Opera, Seattle Opera, Atlanta Opera, Wolf Trap Opera
Tyler Cain: (instrumental music department) Nashville-based producer, performer, songwriter
Trey Pollard: (instrumental music department) guitarist, arranger, producer, pedal-steelist
Natalie Prass: (musical theatre and visual arts departments) singer songwriter, touring with a debut album
Adrienne Warren: (musical theatre department) Bring It On: The Musical, Shuffle Along with Audra MacDonald (opens this Spring on Broadway)
Gabe Hyman: (dance department) Ailey II
Kelli Barrett: Doctor Zhivago, The Royal Family, Wicked, and Baby It’s You on Broadway, film and television actress
Jake Fowler: (instrumental music department) cellist, Virginia Symphony, Manhattan Symphonie, Houston Symphony, director of the OBX Chamber Music Series
Mary Kathryn Wood: Woo Woo from 94.9 The Point will host the pre-show talk back
The Governor’s School for the Arts Alumni Benefit Showcase is on December 18 at 8:00 p.m., with a pre-show discussion at 7:00 p.m. The performance is at University Theatre at 46th Street and Hampton Boulevard, and tickets are available at the theater box office and at showtix4u.com. Check out gsarts.net for more information.