Elementary students take center stage

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Performing arts opportunities at elementary schools don’t go hand in hand in the Diocese of Phoenix, but a former parish leader is changing that.

Terry Temple spent 25 years as a liturgy and music director in the diocese. These days, he’s still directing, but not within a Mass. Certainly a massive number of students though — 86 alone in kindergarten through eighth-grade for his current production.

‘The Little Mermaid, Jr.’

7 p.m. May 4-5

2 pm. May 5

St. Theresa Catholic School

Tickets: $7-10 general, $20 reserved

This weekend’s production of “The Little Mermaid, Jr.” at St. Theresa marks the fifth diocesan Catholic campus to offer musical theater this school year alone thanks to Temple’s efforts. Parents at both St. Theresa and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale say they chose the school because of its theater program. Temple has directed eight shows at OLPH in the last seven years.

Temple, owner of Temple Music and Performing Arts, directs each show via his “Theater-in-a-Box program.” A professional director and choreographer work with school staff and parent volunteers to bring a show to life. This marked the first year of shows for students at St. Mary-Basha in Chandler and Annunciation in Cave Creek.

It was the first year at St. Francis Xavier too. The school squeezed in two shows.

“Performing builds confidence in areas that translate to success in the classroom and socially,” Temple said. The program also forms and strengthens student friendships, especially across grade levels.

The students stick around too. Younger actors often return and some of the older ones who move into high school careers come back to work tech and behind the scenes.

Katie Coury and Greg Abbott are among prime examples. They grew up at St. Theresa before life took them to neighboring boys and girls Catholic preparatories. The friends raised $25,000 through a combination of donations and a matching fund set up through the University of Notre Dame’s Club of Phoenix during last year’s production of “Les Misérables.”

(photo courtesy of St. Mary-Basha)

Some school productions even have afforded students the opportunity to see their parish priests in new roles. Fr. Dan McBride, pastor of St. Mary-Basha, played Jacob in the March 15-18 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Fr. JC Ortiz, parochial vicar at St. Theresa, was in two student plays last year, and though not a huge stretch in terms of “getting into character,” Fr. Chuck Kieffer, pastor, played the priest in “Les Miserables” last year.

Religious themed, a Disney theme or something else, Temple said it’s the journey the kids take to opening curtain and final curtain that matters most.

Not every student comes to the first rehearsal with acting experience, but by the final curtain, they certainly have a greater sense of self confidence. Many of them also have an accolade or two to put on their high school application or resume. Temple’s students have a combined 56 wins and nominations from the National Youth Arts, Gammage High School Musical Theater and ariZoni Awards in 2015 alone.

“It is a beautiful expression of the Body of Christ working as one,” Temple said.