Van High School One Act Play Changes Lives

It's minutes before show time. The last public performance for a group of Van High School students headed to state competition is about to begin. Looking back months ago, when Van Drama Teacher Larry Wisdom told his actors he wanted to do the spiritual production "Godspell" for U.I.L. One Act Competition, he was not met with an enthusiastic reaction.

"We were surprised," says Van Senior and lead actor Justin Billington, "and to be honest we all thought he was a little crazy. Reading the script its hard to get your mind around the concept of Godspell."

A lot of things have changed since that day. Tonight, just before the curtain rises, these students pause, to pray.

Godspell is one of the biggest Broadway success of all time. Using clowning and some vaudeville, the story touches on the parables of Jesus and their life changing teachings. Those teachings have changed lives, primarily for this cast students, who today are much different because of a high school play.

"In our play we have this symbolic thing where when a character in the play comes to the realization about God we take off our mask and our wigs," says Van Senior Tiffany Jaynes. "It symbolizes our realization I guess, our enlightenment. So its like Godspell and our own personal lives meshes's changed my's made an impact."

"All the characters are named after themselves, except for Justin whose Jesus and me who is John the  Baptist and Judas," adds Van Junior Bryan Sanders, "so its like we are the characters, we're not someone playing that character, so we have to feel the emotions..."

"This play brought down everybodys walls," recalls Billinton, "it made us come together as a family, and friends. I know each member of this cast has 14 friends that they never had before."

"I thought from the beginning...I just thought it could be a God thing," recalls Van Drama Teacher Larry Wisdom. "I've seen productions of "Godspell" that didn't do anything for me spiritually, but I know that it can be if you approach it right it can be that. And I think for them it has become that."

And even more... This ensemble has surprised even themselves, winning competition after competition, before finally ending their journey at the state U.I.L competition.

But as the final days of this production approached it was very apparent to these actors, that their purpose, their success, was about something much more than acting.

"I don't think anymore it has anything to do with winning...losing..." says Wisdom, "I think they really know they have a story to tell that can really alter...I think they always think this...there is someone out there...I really think they think this, I love this..they think there is someone out there that needs to hear this."

"Each person in the cast has shared a moment with the others about what the play has meant to them," says Billington, "and theres not a night that we don't have people come up to us and say, this has touched me or this has touched the person that I have brought. I know that several people have been using it to minister to other people and their bring people who are not saved to our play."

"Past the competition and past the rewards that we have received," says Billington, "knowing that what we are doing is presenting the message to everybody else and its touching the lives of other people that's the most rewarding thing and I never thought I would gain that by doing a play in high school."

***On Thursday, May 2nd, The cast and crew of Van High School won the U.I.L. State One Act Play competition held in Austin, Texas. Justin Billington, who portrayed "Jesus" was named Best Actor and was also awarded the Samuel French award for outstanding performance of the meet. Garen Lowrey was selected to the All-Star Cast. Bryan Sanders was named Honorable Mention.