Armstrong High theater department presents first full production in more than 30 years

Updated: Apr. 17, 2019 at 6:25 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - History will be made onstage inside one Richmond high school Wednesday night.

That’s because students from Armstrong and Richmond Community high schools will come together to present a popular musical, and it will be the first full production to be held at Armstrong High School in over three decades.

All the world’s a stage, but Jasmine Richardson dreams of the glitz and glamour that come with being center stage as a performer.

It is a dream she has wanted to come true ever since she was 7 years old.

“Seeing like movies and TV shows inspired me to want to be an actress,” said Richardson.

While watching her work the stage with ease, it seems this Armstrong High School senior has what it takes to make her dream come true.

However, until about two years ago, very few people knew of this 18-year-old’s talents - including special education teacher Topaz Wise.

“We go into the choir room and she sings ‘Defining Gravity’ from Wicked,” said Wise, who has a background in theater. “She started to sing and she opened her mouth and and I’m like ‘where did that come from?’ Like who knows you can do this? So, I immediately thought about her. I’m like we’ve got to get a production up. We’ve got to do something because there has to be more Jasmines in this building, students who are into this but just have never had this outlet presented to them.”

There were indeed more talented students like Jasmine, who simply did not have opportunities to showcase their gifts.

On Wednesday night, about 40 of them from both Armstrong and Richmond Community high schools, under the direction of theater arts teacher Jullianne Kramer, will join forces to present a full theater production.

It is something that has not been done inside Armstrong's auditorium in more than 30 years due to budget cuts.

“I was like ‘finally, they’re having theater!’ Because I’ve been wanting to do theater ever since I was in 9th grade, but they didn’t have a teacher for it,” said Richardson.

It is a musical called "Once on This Island."

And the message - “Love conquers all. Even death. You can love beyond death,” said Wise.

“I play Daniel, who is a rich member of the Beauxhomme family,” said actor Blaise Wingold. “They are descended from the French. But he falls in love with a peasant on the island, who is from African descent but they’re not allowed to be together.”

Wingold, who is a sophomore at Richmond Community High School, jumped at the chance to audition for a role.

“There are so many different ways to express yourself, and in theater, you can express yourself while you are entertaining others and telling them a story,” said Wingold.

For these students, that expression is both onstage and off. They run the show, from makeup to choreography and everything in between.

"We have students on light board. We have students on sound. We have students costuming," said Wise. "It gives them confidence and it gives them the ability to stand in front of their peers and take their space."

And after long nights of practicing and preparing to breathe life back into a stage that sat dormant for decades, their space is now in the spotlight, and it is time for these students to shine.

"Though we are located where we are, though we are faced with many different challenges," said Wise. "They are worthy of resources. They're worthy of immaculate and impeccable teachers. They're worthy of all of these things. And just give them five seconds, and who you, by sight, you may be afraid of, once they open their mouths, you're like 'oh my goodness. look at this baby.' They're amazing."

You can see just how amazing they are for yourself.

They perform Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Doors open at 6, and the show begins at 6:30. Tickets range from $2 to $5.

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