FHC alumni return to help the theatre department put on High School Musical Jr.

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Sophie Young

Two of the alumni teaching the students during musical auditions

2014 FHC alumna Ashley Kooistra considers herself as a “Gabriella Montez.” 

High School Musical’s Gabriella is known for being studious, somewhat shy, and a great singer, and Kooistra believes this represents her high-school self well. 

“I was so studious in high school,” Kooistra said. “[I was] always getting involved in new things when people would encourage me, and I like to think I was a class sweetheart. So as much as I love Sharpay’s sassiness, I think I’m more of a Gabriella.” 

Even after her cap was thrown into the air and her high school days were over, Kooistra enjoys being involved with her alma mater. 

It feels great,” Kooistra said. “Honestly, it feels like I never left just because I’ve been helping out so much over the past years since I graduated, but it’s always such a joy just to come back in the same space where I have so many memories and getting to see the next graduating classes make theirs.”

Kooistra isn’t the only one who loves sharing her knowledge of theatre. This year, three alumni—Kooistra, 2002 FHC alumnus Kyle Black, and 2014 alumnus John Donovan—are working with theatre director Robbin DeMeester to produce this year’s musical: High School Musical Jr. 

[The students are] just capable of so much more sometimes than people give them credit for, and it’s amazing to watch how they can progress.”

— Kyle Black

Black has been helping for the past ten years. While Black is usually busy choreographing and even being an artistic director for the shows, this year, he is using his career—a professional wedding photographer and videographer—to be even more involved as more of a director with DeMeester as the producer. 

No matter what he is doing, however, he is interacting with the students and being inspired by them. 

“I love working with the [students],” Black said, “because these kids are capable of so much when they’re pushed, and the kids that come into this theatre program know that it’s not going to be just kind of come in and do something easy; they’re going to work really hard and achieve something that they never thought possible.” 

This innocence and perseverance of students will help them go far, and Black loves seeing just how far they can make it. 

“That’s why I love working with high school [students],” Black said. “They’re just capable of so much more sometimes than people give them credit for, and it’s amazing to watch how they can progress and how hungry they can be and when they want something to be really good.”

As Black pushes the theatre students to their highest rung, he gives them some air to breathe, some time to bond, and some time to let out a laugh. Through the long hours, the theatre students and mentors spend together; this time makes them grow close as a cast and make memories to last a lifetime.

“There [are] so many [good laughs] that we always share in the theatre,” Black said, “because it’s like a family, and when you’re with your family, there [are] a lot of jokes being shared and so many good times [and] a lot of funny moments—things that happen on stage and things that happen during rehearsals.”

Through the lengthy rehearsals of dancing and singing with some time to squeeze in a laugh, the alumni are inspiring the students, and DeMeester notices this.

“I think just their energy as younger people [helps inspire the current students],” DeMeester said. “They come up with different ideas, they see things through a different lens than what I do—which is inspiring to kids—and they bring out aspects of kids that I don’t because I’m focused on different aspects of students, so it’s just having that second, third, fourth eye to kind of help with things and draw kids out in different ways that’s really special for everybody.”

The students look up to these alumni as people who have been through FHC theatre’s ranks. This inspiration, along with the helpful tips and corrections of the alumni, allows the theatre students to grow and improve to the best actor or cast member they can be. 

While the alumni are inspiring and teaching the students, they also manage to inspire their teacher, mentor, and friend—DeMeester. 

“I learn so much from just watching [the alumni],” DeMeester said, “and it’s wonderful as a teacher and kind of their ‘school mom’ to see them grow and see them be so great in a craft that I might have helped inspire but really didn’t do a lot to develop because they did all of that on their own. I guess I’m just inspired.”

With all of this inspiration transpiring, Kooistra believes theatre is, at its core, a hub for inspiring others while showing how people can work together. 

“[Theatre] allows people to come together to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Kooistra said, “because any one of us alone can’t create something as big as a production. You need the crew to make the cast look good, and then you need the cast to give the crew a job. There [are] just so many ways to use everyone’s unique gifts to come together for something great, so that’s a really inspiring reflection of how the rest of the world should be.”