PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: This Christian High School Has 30% Of Its Student Body Doing Theatre | Playbill

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Education News PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: This Christian High School Has 30% Of Its Student Body Doing Theatre

Ambassador Christian School is one of the first theatres in their area to perform Anastasia.

Welcome to Playbill's new initiative, PLAYBILLDER Spotlight, highlighting shows and events from educational institutions around the country (who have used Playbill's program-building service). By welcoming these PLAYBILLDERs center stage, we hope to give our readers a more in-depth look at theatre programs that are fostering the love of the performing arts in the next generation.

Guide: How To Build Your Own Custom Program with PLAYBILLDER

This week's spotlight is Ambassador Christian School of Torrance, California and their production of Anastasia. Based on the beloved animated film of the same name, the musical adapts the legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia who was rumored to have survived her family's execution. Years after the fall of the Russian Empire, a young woman named Anya teams up with two con-men in the hopes of finding home, family, and love. 

Drama and Vocal Ensemble educator Jason Sluyter shared with Playbill what he's noticed about his students' confidence post-pandemic, how one of his students' annual performance helps heal their community, and which skills he hopes his students take from the stage and into their young adult lives. 

Company of Ambassador Christian School's Anastasia Isabelle Hesse

How many years have you been teaching? 
Jason Sluyter: I have been teaching vocal music and theatre at Ambassador Christian School for 7 years, but have been involved in educational theatre for over 20 years.

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
Every time that a student gets on stage and does something that they think they cannot do. From memorizing a three minute monologue to singing a solo in front of an audience, I love to see them step outside of their comfort zone and succeed!

Can you share a little bit about the value you see in having a performing arts program in schools?
Most of my students have no plans of going into the performing arts as a career. But, I tell them every year that the skills they learn in a theatre class can translate to so many other areas of their lives and career paths, from memorization, to projection, and even just standing up in front of a group of people and giving a presentation.

What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of teaching the performing arts to today’s students?
The most challenging part is getting the students to believe in themselves, to see the potential that I see in them. Ever since the pandemic, I have noticed confidence levels have lowered and anxiety levels have risen. One of the most rewarding aspects is watching the students find that confidence again after facing their fears and realizing that they can do it!

Company of Ambassador Christian School's Anastasia Isabelle Hesse

How does your school’s performing arts programs impact your community?
 One of our most memorable performances every year is at the Redondo Beach Domestic Violence Candlelight Vigil, where we get to sing for survivors of domestic violence and honor the men and women that help them through this difficult time of their lives.

What are your dreams for how your drama department can grow?
My dream is to have our very own theatre one day. We currently have to rent venues for our productions which is a huge expense!

What made you pick Anastasia show? How do you choose shows for your students?
We are a very small school of only 130 students between the 6th–12th grades (30 middle school and 100 high school). I do not "pre-cast" my shows, but I do need to see which students are interested in doing the musical and use that as a baseline for choosing a show. I tend to lean towards shows that the students are excited about to keep interest high and numbers up. On top of that, we are a Christian school so I do need to keep the content of the show in mind when making my final selection. 

I have been blessed to have 30 students in my casts the past few years, and another 5-10 on stage crew. That's 30 percent of our student body involved in the musical! Oh, and by the way, our boy to girl ratio is almost 50/50, which is unheard of around this area for high school theatre. We chose Anastasia because the students have very fond memories of the classic animated movie and songs. The fact that we are one of the very first (if not the first) high school to do the show anywhere near us was a huge plus too.

Company of Ambassador Christian School's Anastasia Isabelle Hesse

What are the kids loving about the show?
The students love the songs, especially the big dance numbers. They were also very exited to have costume fittings the other day since most of our costumes are being made just for us!

What message do you have for your students as they take the stage?
We always pray before each performance and I tell them to leave it all out on stage. We only have three performances after months of hard work, so I tell them to savor each moment.

How did the students participate in the design or production of this Playbill?
Our stage manager, who was also our dramaturg, wrote a wonderful note for the program. Each student writes their own bio too.

What reactions do you expect to see in students when they see their name printed in this Playbill for the first time?
The students are always excited to see the Playbill for the first time and most of them take them home as a keepsake.

Company of Ambassador Christian School's Anastasia Isabelle Hesse

To design Broadway-quality programs for your next show, head to Who knows, you might just be featured in our next PLAYBILLDER Spotlight!

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