Hempstead HS Theatre Arts Director and alum Gabriel Arias, back row right, is working to bring the program back to its former glory days. Arias was a member of the 2011 One-Act Play State Championship and 2013 OAP State Runner-up teams. HHS Thespians performed Tracers, a play set in the Vietnam War era for the 2021 OAP contest. It was the only performance this year due to COVID. (Hempstead ISD Communications)
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HEMPSTEAD — History will tell anyone that has followed the Hempstead High School Theatre Arts program that it was recognized as one hard act to follow in its past glory days.

Back to raise the curtain on a new spirit from the Bobcats’ stage is former state all-star cast recipient and member of the 2011 Hempstead state championship and 2013 state runner-up teams, Gabriel Arias.

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“There’s been a long tradition of success and participation in theatre and speech competitions in Hempstead,” Arias said. “I want to bring that back.”

It hasn’t been since Arias left that any One-Act Play has made it out of district competition. Or that the department has held any public shows. After his first year working through COVID and rebuilding student interest, Arias finds hope that his students can reclaim the program’s once elite status.

“My biggest fear was that no students would show up to participate. This year was strange due to COVID and not having the chance to do anything publicly in front of a live audience,” he said. “I did find a good base of students who are capable of growing into artists. They know the expectations and the basics of acting and standing on the stage.”

Arias looks to take a page out of former directors Mark Pickell’s and Gloria McLuckie’s scripts. Both leaders built the school’s state-champion caliber tradition during their eras leading the ‘Cats.

The most recent success came under the now-retired McLuckie, who served Hempstead from 2005-2013. She led Arias, his peers, and the program to unprecedented heights culminating with the state title. McLuckie’s actors consistently advanced out of district and regional competitions and raked in various awards and recognitions.

Pickell, who left Hempstead in the early 2000s to return to a professional acting career, led his Thespians to a UIL state alternate finish in 2000 and a 2002 state runner-up finish.

Already Arias has been able to get McLuckie’s footprint back on the program by convincing her to help him and put on a workshop for the current students.

“I don’t think I would have graduated high school had it not been for her (McLuckie). Growing up, I remember the high school theatre students coming over to grow the middle school, which I want to implement again.”

Recruitment in Arias’s first year was good, and the director said he kept the students interested. The UIL committee did allow One-Act Play in the COVID year, and Arias believes it benefited his young, aspiring actors even though they didn’t advance. HHS performed Tracers at OAP competition. The play takes place during Vietnam War boot camp training.

Having the OAP this year was a good thing for these students. They had to put in the work to perform a show for the judges. They now understand what it takes to get out of district and advance to the next level.”

More Bobcats are in line to join the program in 2021-22.

“We have ten newcomers interested in the program for next year, and that is due to word of mouth from the current actors,” Arias said. “Students want to be part of something that accepts them.”

The director says that it is the department’s acceptance culture that drew students of all backgrounds when he was an actor in the program.

“We always ended up with a diverse group of students,” Arias said. “You’d never think our group would be friends. The program had a way to call us all together. We grew as human beings. It was a safe place to express ourselves.”

Students at HHS feel that Arias is returning that culture to the program. Trintin Hyden, a 2021 all-star cast member, experienced it first-hand.

“Being in theatre arts this year opened my mind up to a lot of different opportunities I could pursue in my life. It also brought me closer to a lot of people I would have never thought to be friends with at school.”

Fellow student actor Anayanzeth Salinas Vargas agrees.

“Theatre arts was new and exciting. It has brought me close to many of my classmates and made me enjoy school more than I already did. It has taught me how fast a bond can grow.”

Arias plans to watch the program grow throughout his tenure like his former predecessors. He hopes to strengthen and grow the cast family so future audiences can see a stage bursting with talent comparable to yesteryears.

“I am excited about the future in Hempstead. We are going to get back to building the middle school program, providing public shows to the community, and work on getting our high school play to the next level.”

For more information on how to contribute to the Hempstead ISD Theatre Department please contact Gabriel Arias at ariasg@hempsteadisd.org.

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