New Ideas for a Season of Change
When Ms. Becca Jackson York was hired as a part-time at Gross seven years ago, her job was to teach two classes – acting and stagecraft – and direct the spring musical. There were about 20 students involved in theatre arts that August and she was encouraged to grow the program. “When they told me to dream big, I dreamt big,” she said.
By the end of Jackson York’s first year, 100 students were taking her classes, participating in the musical “Oklahoma,” and seeking parts in other performances. Gross then offered her a full-time contract. Looking to the future, Jackson York continues to dream big. “My 20/20 vision…we would be the go-to theatre department in Omaha,” she said.
Then, 2020 happened and Jackson York had to make some difficult decisions. “It broke our hearts not to perform the spring musical,” she said. “Walking into the new school year, we didn’t want that to happen again.”
While planning the fall semester, Jackson York and her student director, Thomas Bricko ’21, put into action the Marianist education characteristics of adaptation and change. “We had to change our perspective about how to put on a production,” Bricko said. “Theatre is about adaptation and creative problem solving and if you learn how to problem solve, then there is no hurdle that you can’t jump.”
Jackson York and Bricko analyzed different options for the annual fall one-act plays. One option included moving sets, rehearsals, and production outdoors. Another option was to keep everything indoors, wear masks, and use social distancing – which the students have become accustomed to. Ultimately, they decided to convert the plays into films. The films will allow Jackson York and Bricko to manage the theatre use and schedule smaller scene rehearsals to maintain social distancing. The format also provides new opportunities for the production team, as designing for stage and for screen are different. Students will be able to edit, promote, and premiere the films digitally.
As a one-woman department, Jackson York admits she’s spread thin. “That’s why I empower my students,” she said. “I can’t do it myself.” She sees herself as a mentor, providing students with the vocal and theatre tools they need, then giving them the responsibility of leadership to succeed. She treats students as colleagues, pushing them “past what they thought they were capable of,” she said.
“We have a very professional operation.” Jackson York has built what she calls a “pre-professional” program, combining theatre with vocal music. She teaches seven classes: Concert Choir, Advanced Vocal Technique, Tap Dancing, Directing, Acting, Theatrical Production & Design, and Musical theatre History. The curriculum is like a “mini-theatre major,” she said, that has prepared Gross students for performances not only at the high school, but at The Rose theatre, the college level and beyond.
With her diverse talent and experience, Jackson York has made a name for Gross Catholic’s theatre program within the state. Every year since 2015, the theatrical productions at Gross Catholic has earned Nebraska High School Academy theatre Awards. Last year, students were cast in the All-State Musical for both “Godspell” and “The Addams Family.” Performances in “The Little Mermaid” garnered four different awards, including two National Qualifying Lead Semi-Finalists for Nyarok Lam as Sebastian and Meg McCoy as Ursula. Most recently Ms. Jackson York was named Outstanding Educator of the Year by Omaha Performing Arts.
It takes long practices, focus, talent, encouragement, tears, laughs and joy to create such a successful program. It also takes God. Jackson York sees her theatre arts department as a strong, faith-based community. Each class begins with prayer and an opportunity to offer petitions and ask for grace and support.
According to her personal mission statement, Jackson York is “committed to empowering students as self-advocates by uncovering their passion, creativity, curiosity, and spiritual gifts through faith, community, vulnerability, and truth.” And when a middle school student is looking for a high school theatre arts program, she hopes, “We’re the first school that comes to mind.”
Though it has been a long road to here, Jackson York, along with the students of Dux Esto Drama, plan to adapt and change this year in order to continue to make art and make a difference.
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About Gross Catholic
One of Nebraska’s best catholic high schools, Gross Catholic is a faith and family-based community committed to developing Christian leaders through academic excellence in the Marianist tradition. Recognized locally for its outstanding education, welcoming atmosphere, competitive sports programs, engaging activities, robust faith, and boundless service work, Gross Catholic has energized the Omaha area for over 50 years. We are Faithful, Compassionate, and Driven! We are Gross Catholic!
To discover more about one of the top high schools in Omaha, contact us at 402.734.2000 or visit our Admissions page at grosscatholic.org.