Family approach leads to success of TRHS One Act Play program

Members of the Three Rivers High School's One Act Play team earned some impressive individual honors and also finished third in the state in Class 2A competition in 2019 — their best showing ever under the direction of Jimmy Conn. It was the group's second consecutive year to advance to state level competition.

By Jeff Osborne

Progress staff

THREE RIVERS – If there is one word that forms the foundation of what the Three Rivers High School One Act Play program is all about, it would be family. That was also the underlying theme of this year’s presentation, “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Dedication to spending hours every week in one act play led to the group’s success, as well as a long-term vision by Jimmy Conn, the One Act Play sponsor who also teaches math at TRHS.

While many of the schools that Three Rivers competes against have a full-time theatre director, for Conn theatre is in addition to his main job. But it’s definitely not an after-thought. Conn said he came across this particular play about 10 years ago, and waited until he had just the right cast to perform it.

In 2018, Three Rivers advanced to state competition in OAP for the first time, and this year the goals were even higher.

“We were a little green last year,” Conn said. “We didn’t really know what to expect. It was a pretty interesting process. This year, we knew what to expect and we were finish in the top three.”

That was the OAP group’s goal, and Conn said thanks to the students’ commitment, they were able to achieve that goal.

“It’s a grueling process,” he said. “There are four different levels to get to state — district, bi-district, area, region and then state.

“The play has to be under 40 minutes or it’s disqualified, an there’s a rulebook of more than 100 pages that you have to follow.”

Conn has directed Three Rivers High School’s One Act Plays for 19 years, and he was also a member of the OAP program himself as a TRHS student from 1990-92.

To say that One Act Play has been a way of life for Conn would not be an overstatement.

“I start reading plays in the summer, and sometimes I find one to use for later on,” he said. “Most plays last about two hours, and it has to be cut down to 40 minutes. We start on One Act Plays in November, but the intensive process starts in January.”

What was it about this year’s group of OAP students that led Conn to use a play he had originally selected a decade ago?

“For one thing, it’s the numbers,” he said. “You have to have the right numbers. Also, the comedic timing of this group is very unique. It fit the comedy style that the author wanted.”

OAP actors for Three Rivers were: Will Gregory, Logan Sbabo, Madison Pope, Alicia Hinojosa, Juan Zermeno and Andrea Valdez.

Working behind the scenes on OAP were: Carolina Cruces, lights; Jaylynn Wilkens, sound; Jocelyn Ramirez, stage manager; Rebecca Darling and Serenity Steele, who worked backstage; and alternates Amie Valdez, Andrew Stogner and Shyan Saenz.

After the district competition in Kennedy, the OAP play advanced to bi-district at Rice Consolidated, followed by competitions in Falfurrias, Corpus Christi and then Round Rock.

Conn said he appreciates the support of the community for the One Act Play program.

“I really want to thank the community,” he said. “We did a public performance in March and opened it to the public free of charge, although we did accept donations. People gave three times as much money in donations this year than we ever made by charging admission.

“I was overwhelmed by how much generosity was showed at out public performance. It’s very cool to see the community members support the arts here.”

A strong group of seniors has fueled the program’s increased success the last two years, and Conn said proceeds for those donations from the community will provide scholarships for three graduating seniors.

“The last two years, we’ve had a lot of seniors, and they’ve really done a great job,” he said.

This year’s seniors are Will Gregory, Logan Sbabo, Madison Pope, Carolina Cruces, Rebecca Darling and Jocelyn Ramirez.

Each said they have made strong, enduring memories and great friendships by participating in One Act Play.

Madison, the daughter of Rachael Pope and Jack Pope, has been an actor all four years she has been at TRHS. She played the role of Aida, and wore makeup that made her appear decades older.

“I enjoyed the feeling of family I got from One Act Play,” she said. “This has grown into a place in my heart and I’ll never forget that, and I can thank Aida for that.”

She said it was a challenge to play an elderly character.

“I had to find a balance between old and ancient,” she said. “I didn’t;t want to make Aida a caricature of old folks, and I worked hard on that. I didn’t get it right until district.”

Madison plans to attend Texas State University, and changed her major to a bachelor of fine arts in theatre because of her OAP experiences.

Will Gregory was in his second year as an actor, and before that was an alternate, participating in OAP for four years.

“I really enjoyed being an alternate, so I decided to give acting a try,” he said.

Will said he enjoyed the connections he made with others involved in the program.

“It was a great feeling to make those connections with people both as part of the play and also outside of it,” he said.

The One Act Play experience also prompting Will to change his major.

“It really opened my eyes and is something I want to continue to do,” he said. Will plans to attend Sam Houston State University, majoring in mass communications and minoring in theatre arts.

He is the son of Danny Gregory and Sonja Lightfoot.

Logan Sbabo also played an elderly character — Frank, who is Aida’s husband.

“It was pretty interesting,” he said. “It’s so different going from walking around and being young to playing a character who is old.

“Being in One Act Play has been a great experience, and the fact that it’s my senior year — it’s hard to let it go.”

Logan, the son of Jennifer Sbabo and David Joiner, and Chris Sbabo, said he also plans to continue participating in theatre in some way after graduating from high school.

Logan plans to attend Northwest Vista College in San Antonio and study radiology. He then plans to continue his studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Rebecca Darling was one of the makeup artists, and also helped the actors make quick costume changes.

“It was a challenge, but at the end of the day what I’ll remember is all the laughs we got to share,” she said.

By putting makeup on the different actors, she said she witnessed them transforming into the characters they were portraying.

“It really brought those characters to life,” she said.

Rebecca, the daughter of David Darling and Jeanette Garcia, plans to attend Coastal Bend College in Beeville before transferring to St. Phillips in San Antonio. She plans to pursue degrees as a registered nurse and earn a bachelor of science in nursing.

Carolina Cruces was the program’s light technician, and also kept time and assisted with makeup.

“I liked all the things I did, but what I loved most was doing the lights,” she said. “I was up in the booth and it was fun to see how well the actors improved. It was fun seeing the transition from the first practice all the way to state.”

While Carolina said she believed the OAP team was a contender for state when it performed at the district level, her confidence soared once they reached the bi-district level.

The daughter of Margarita and Armando Cruces, Caroline plans to attend Texas A&M University at Kingsville and major in mechanical engineering.

Jocelin Ramirez was stage manager for the team.

“My job was to be in charge of everything that goes on and make sure everything goes smoothly backstage,” she sai, adding that the dedication of her fellow students made the job easy and something she truly enjoyed.

“It was really a fun experience,” Jocelin said. “I’ve been in One Act Play for three years, and I was an alternate my sophomore and junior years. Having a role with this group has really been great and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m going to miss them a lot.”

The daughter of Matilde Cerna, Jocelyn plans to attend West Texas A&M University and major in theatre design or Spanish.”

Each of the seniors said Conn’s leadership, encouragement and coaching is something they greatly appreciate.

“I want to thank Mr. Conn for four great years,” Madison said. 

“He’s had the biggest impact,” Will added.

“He’s made a huge difference,” Logan added.

Each of the students said the success of the program is due to Conn, and that while they wanted to perform well for the team, they wanted to be successful even more because of the positive impact Conn has had on their lives.

The students said they wanted to end the story with the phrase “Tengo Famiglia,” an Italian saying that emphasizes the importance of family.

“It means ‘I have a family,’ but it’s so much more than that,” Logan said.

“It means we support, we love because of family,” Madison said.

It was that family-like approach that led TRHS’ One Act Play to its top finish ever in state competition, and one which will help lay the foundation for the program’s future success.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.