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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest wins Shakespeare sweepstakes, set for fall musical

Oct 24, 2018 03:41PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Hillcrest High’s Shakespeare team gathers around theatre director Josh Long at the Utah High School Shakespearean competition, where the school took first place in sweepstakes. (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After repeating as the sweepstakes winner — and in the process of taking first place in ensemble with “Julius Caesar,” first place in tech Olympics, second place in monologue and third in a trio scene — at the 42nd annual Utah High School Shakespeare competition, Hillcrest High students already were in rehearsals for their fall musical, “Hairspray.”

“It’s always great to see their hard work recognized and it’s cool to see them perform so well,” theatre director Josh Long said about his Shakespeare team. “It’s a good win for our stage crew. They’re showing great consistency.”

Hillcrest High theatre president and senior Jack Cobabe also pointed out a new part of the school’s Shakespeare team.

“We were also the first school ever to bring with us, a Spanish language Shakespeare team, and they too did amazing things,” he said.

Their accomplishment was not only placing fourth place, but surprising the judges, Long said.

“The judges were taken back that they presented it all in Spanish. They didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I wanted to include Spanish speakers in our team to reflect the diversity of our population. Along the same lines, that is what we’re wanting all year, to show our diversity and lift each other. Theatre reflects humanity and I want to break barriers and allow the audience to see more themselves on stage. That’s why I picked ‘Hairspray.’ I want to celebrate our community.”

About 250 students will take part in “Hairspray,” which will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15 through Saturday, Nov. 17 and again, on Monday, Nov. 19 at Hillcrest High School’s auditorium, 7350 S. 900 East. Tickets will be available at

Leads include junior Grace Zito as Tracy Turnblad; sophomore Ethan Kendrick as Edna Turnblad; junior Caroline Ciet as Penny Pingleton; senior Darryl Ifote as Seaweed Stubbs; senior Kami Loertscher as Motormouth Maybelle; senior Ian Williams as Link Larkin; senior Ethan Pearce as Corny Collins; junior Bailey Hunt as Amber Von Tussle; senior Aleisha Meier as Velma Von Tussle; and senior Jeremiah Goates as Wilbur Turnblad. 

Cobabe, who plays a guard in the musical, supports more inclusion on stage.

“‘Hairspray’ is such a fun show with a wonderful meaning,” he said about the fourth musical he has been in at Hillcrest. “I really like how this show celebrates diversity across the board. There are so many different types of people in our world, and in theater, we try to tell all of their stories.”

Cobabe said through his theater experiences, he has learned much from his teachers and directors, Long and Giselle Gremmert.

“What they've taught us in theatre directly applies to real life, and literally makes us into better people. I believe that people can truly be changed through live theatre,” he said.

He said that includes supporting students. 

“Students are given full freedom with making acting choices. If a choice doesn't work out, the directors help the actor come up with a better choice. The directors also make sure everyone's choices align, and positively add to the concept of the show,” Cobabe said, adding that specific goals are set for each show. 

The support extends beyond the actors on the stage.

“Here, at Hillcrest, we have an amazing pit orchestra. This means that we have a full live soundtrack for our performances which adds so much to the overall show. We also are blessed with the best stage crew in the state of Utah. The stage crew builds all of our set, as well as takes care of all technical needs. Both of these groups have added so much to our department, and we are very thankful for them,” he said.

Long said that “Hairspray” will provide a challenge to both the stage crew and instrumental students.

“Giselle’s students have created a whole different look than we’ve ever had before and are going to be showing live feed around the stage with TV screens. The stage crew is always looking at different technology and different ways for the audience to have better experiences. They also are building an extension on the stage, which is where the orchestra pit usually is. For this show, we plan to have the orchestra more visual, on stage as part of the show, which will be a lot more fun. We also will feature different musicians than we did with ‘Les Mis’ and offering new styles of learning with that music,” he said. “This way, we can celebrate each other’s art form, hard work and how people are different than themselves and they can find that great connection through music and dance.”

Student body president and senior Landon Nipko, who is the sound designer for the show, said that while he has “never had a problem with being behind the scenes or unnoticed,” he realizes that the “actors for each of the plays and musicals put unbelievable effort into their roles and practice for ridiculous amounts of time to make sure their performance is as perfect and powerful as possible.”

In stage crew, Nipko knew they often go unnoticed.

“I joined stage crew knowing we don't get very much recognition, and I have never felt the need to receive attention for what I have done,” he said. “It is kind of interesting because our jobs are done best if we go unnoticed. We are supposed to help the audience get lost in the play, and if they are noticing us that means we are distracting from the message of the play.”

Nipko said the concept for creating the set for “Hairspray” is different than others.

“Unlike many of the previous sets we have built at Hillcrest, we are not trying to make the set for ‘Hairspray’ literal,” he said. “Meaning, rather than recreate Baltimore and the settings of the scenes, the set pieces are more designed to abstractly represent these locations.”

Nipko, who has been involved in sets since middle school, said set pieces for musicals must be more mobile than those of plays. 

“Because of the musical numbers and dancing, nearly every set piece needs to be on wheels, so it can be quickly moved on and off the stage, moved during transitions, and moved as a part of the choreography of a scene,” he said. “Multiple aspects of stage crew are appealing to me, but I think it can best be summed up by saying it is the problem-solving involved. Everything from building the sets to fixing a mic requires critical thinking and judgment.”