Globe/T. Rob Brown Sandy (center), portrayed by Lacey Daniels, joins other cast members during a dress rehearsal for “Grease” at the Pittsburg High School Theatre.

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Ask parent Sherri Stephens for names of those who have helped Pittsburg High School theater and choral students with money or manpower or both, and she’ll hem and haw — not for having a lack of names, but because there are so many she won’t remember them all.

Those names are part of a new group — PHS Friends of Performing Arts — that has left Stephens “pleasantly shocked” at the support pouring out from the community.

“I jokingly said to theater teacher Greg Shaw one day that we need a support group for these kids, and he said, ‘Since you mentioned that … ,’” Stephens said.

The timing was perfect: Shaw had just wrapped his second successful musical at PHS, and Encore, the high-school choral group under the direction of Susan Laushman, had been invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Until the Friends group formed, there was no organized support for either group. Now, about 50 members — ranging from retired residents and parents to working professionals with no children involved — are on board.

“From a personal standpoint, obviously it’s always nice to have a group of people that seem to believe in what you’re doing and that you’re doing the right things,” Shaw said. “There is a validation that we’re doing things they appreciate because they’re willing to offer their time and resources.”

Those resources have ranged from members financially supporting meals for student actors who rehearse after school, at night and on weekends leading up to a performance, to those helping to build sets or work in the concession stand.

Stephens said it began with a letter identifying a multi-level giving system that was sent to all staff members, parents and families of PHS students in Encore and theater classes, and to key community members.

“You can be a PHS Friend by making a monetary donation, or support it by attending a performance or helping with manpower, or all of the above,” Stephens said.

The response was immediate. A member created a marquee on which names of individuals making monetary donations will be printed and displayed at events. Two other members are longtime theater veterans and have offered technical expertise with lights and set design.

Others offered to take bags of apples to rehearsals for the students, pay for pizza at a cast party, and provide a meal for today’s long day of technical adjustment and dress rehearsal for “Grease,” which opens this week.

Shaw said it has made a “world of difference” in helping him achieve the level of quality for which he strives to know that he is just a phone call away from a network of people committed to helping.

“There are key parents willing to let me call and say, ‘Hey, I need a welder, and I don’t know any.’ They get on the phone, send an e-mail, then bam, somebody has one,” Shaw said. “Those things give you confidence that you’re doing the right things and they’re appreciative of the time you’re investing with students.”

He said that in this time of economic uncertainty, the group gives him confidence that his program will weather the storm.

“Our group has been extraordinarily impressive with a desire to give financially, which has allowed us to do some things we wouldn’t have done otherwise,” he said.

In January, the group supported 35 students traveling to the Kansas Thespian Conference in Wichita by providing chaperones and offsetting meal costs for the three-day event. After “Grease” wraps, the group will concentrate its efforts on supporting Encore’s spring concert and trip to the state choir event in April.

“I’ve always been excited that this community has the arts to offer to us,” Stephens said. “We’re really lucky to have two really strong people leading the way at PHS. And it’s perpetual, this involvement. The kids will become parents someday who will support the arts, and the cycle will continue.”

‘Grease’ is the word

Pittsburg High School’s production of “Grease” is slated for 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. A 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday will feature a classic-car show by local car club Rollin’ Nostalgia, which agreed to set up the show in the parking lot after a request by a Friends member.

Tickets are for reserved seating and are available to the public at Pittsburg High School. Prices are $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Details: (620) 235-3200 or

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