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Andrew students, alumni unite for fundraiser

The lights are turned down low and the room falls silent, as a company of performers take center stage. They begin to perform a scene from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Families, students and alumni of the Andrew High School theater program gathered Dec. 29 for the Alumni Show, The Extravaganza: Second Edition.

The event’s purpose was twofold: to bring past and present performers together to share their love for the arts and to help raise money for the students’ summer trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the American High School Theatre Festival.

Auditorium director Lisa Gonwa said she appreciates the community’s support for the theater program over the years and is hopeful the trend continues.

“It gives the students an opportunity to do theatre and bring Andrew High School theatre to an international stage,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. It’s a great way to connect our current student population with the kids who had gone before them, so they know it’s possible [to pursue a career in the performing arts].”

This year’s trip to Scotland – which is to take place July 29 to Aug. 11 – will allow eight students accompanied by three adults to attend the program. The cost to travel roughly rounds out to $6,500 per student. That Thursday night event, alone, raised a total of $2,700.

“We invited all the current Andrew students to come in and participate in the show,” Gonwa said. “It really is up to them and their family if they want to take on this kind of challenge in their year.”

Maria Alexandra Szczasny, a Class of 2016 graduate, said it felt amazing to return to her alma mater.

“It’s absolutely great to be on that stage again because that was my home for the four years at Andrew,” she said. “It feels like home.”

Szczasny is looking forward to studying theatre when she begins college next year. She said participating in the alumni show offers a chance to divulge further into her passion for performing arts.

“You learn so many amazing things because you have people who are studying music and theatre and dance,” Szczasny said. “You get to learn a little bit from everybody.”

Szczasny performed several pieces during the show, including a rendition of “Sweeney Todd.”

“My favorite part is being on stage with the alum that I went to high school with, but also the alum that I didn’t,” she said. “I get to meet all these great people, all these amazing performers, and I get to perform alongside them.”

The extravaganza show brought in more than 40 people to help work on stage or backstage.

Gonwa said this event creates a unique way for alumni to return to campus and revive their passion for performing arts.

“We do a huge range of theater and that appeals to a wide variety of students, and because we’re trying to appeal to a lot of students in a productive, educational safe environment, [alumni and other supporters] are more encouraged to give back and come back.”

Tara Busha, who graduated from Andrew in 2008, was another attendee.“I like seeing all the old faces, people that I used to do shows with here,” Busha said. “I did like every musical that was put on while I was in high school I did. So, it’s nice to see everyone.”

She shared that showing support for the theater program is important because “it’s a dying art,” and fundraising events like these bring the program to the forefront.

“There’s a lot of funding that comes into a school and this is the last place it comes,” Busha added.

Busha’s mother, Joanne Zavadil, shared that sentiment.

“They’ve stopped a lot of art and a lot of music,” Zavadil said. “I think it’s important that kids get that type of a venue to keep themselves out of trouble.”

Zavadil said it brought great meaning to see the show.

“I was at every performance and every rehearsal, and I miss it,” she said of what the program meant to her. “I actually miss it. My husband and I miss it. We loved it.”

There are many takeaways for providing an opportunity for her students to study theatre abroad, and that experience could begin with being a part of the American High School Theatre Festival, Gonwa said.

“I’m hoping that their basic theatrical skills get reinforced with this process, but I’m also hoping that because we’re traveling on an international level, we’re going to have an opportunity to see international theatre and expose them to those opportunities,” Gonwa said. “So, I want the kids to come back with a sense of what theater is like for other countries and other cultures so they can share that here.”

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