Theatre — The actor and director, along with two fellow graduates, finishes high school with prestigious award

Newberg High School drama teacher Hendrea Ferguson estimates that about seven students in the last 15 years have earned recognition as national honor thespians from the International Thespian Society, the honor society for middle and secondary theater students. by: FILE PHOTO - The thinking man's actor - Recent Newberg High School graduate Garrett Gibbs (left) performs during a presentation of ‘The Servant of Two Masters' last year. Gibbs became Newberg's first-ever international honor thespian in May.

So for the class of 2014 to produce three — Garrett Gibbs, Jesse Groat and Matthew Jones — is quite extraordinary.

If that wasn’t distinctive enough, Gibbs also became the first student in program history to earn to be named an international honor thespian.

“They are exemplary drama students,” Ferguson said. “They are conscientious and they constantly are working on honing their craft. And they grow. All three of them in four years have just been phenomenal. I’m very proud of them.”

The awards are determined by a points system that rewards students for work in acting, production, business, directing, writing, and other categories. For example in full-length plays, acting in a major role, directing or stage managing are worth eight points apiece, with assistant or vocal directors earning six, actors minor roles five, actors in the chorus three, and so on.

Groat and Jones both compiled at least 120 points to earn the national award, while Gibbs accrued 192 to easily eclipse the international standard of 180.

All three first learned of the honors and received them at the theater program’s annual induction and awards ceremony in May.

“The experiences and opportunities that Newberg has given me have been really great,” Groat said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of it.”

And while Ferguson’s robust theater program, which puts on five full-length plays each year, helped give the trio the opportunity to be prolific, the honor is also about quality, as each point, in general, represents 10 hours of excellent work.

Ferguson says she’s had lots of students who work with their scripts, tear them apart, but that these three go further, coming in on their own time for conferences so that they may fully develop their characters.

In that respect, Gibbs epitomizes the intellectual actor, applying critical thinking and analysis into the process by searching out critical essays on his characters and thoroughly researching how others have done it before him. At the same time, Ferguson points out, his physicality on stage is equally impressive.

“It’s as if he can move his center of gravity when he’s on stage. When he was playing Argonne (in “The Imaginary Invalid”) it was really high up in his chest, really comic. Then when he played Hamlet it was as if he moved it south. It was still a very physical performance, very high energy, but there was definitely a weightiness to the way he moved on stage.”

Gibbs will spend the next two years studying only theater at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts and thanks in part to connections made during the NHS troupe’s trip to perform at the Fringe Festival in Scotland, may afterward pursue an opportunity to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Groat, who Ferguson describes as the “consummate gentleman,” is more of the quiet type, taking everything in.

“He’s one of the best listeners I know. He listens to everything that’s going on. If you give him a note — because during the process I give them notes on how they can improve their performance — he hears it, he takes it and he uses it.

In the troupe’s performance of “The Imaginary Invalid” in Scotland, Groat played Guy, who was tasked with going into the audience to ask questions and making up a song about what he found out.

“It was a hoot every time he did it,” Ferguson said. “People were just eating it up with a spoon.”

According to Ferguson, Jones was extremely reserved and shy when he entered the program, but came into his own playing lead roles like Elwood in “Harvey,” which Groat also played, and Claudius in “Hamlet.”

“He just blossomed,” Ferguson said. “I think for him, he plays a fabulous bad guy because he has that sort of distance that he can put up, where he takes the character and how they manipulate and look at everyone around them.”

Both Jones and Groat will attend George Fox University, where Groat plans to step away from the theater to double major in Music Education and Literature.

“It’s been a great run, but I feel like I’m ready to move on,” Groat said. “It’s really weird thinking that I’m not going to be a part of that group anymore, but I think I’m ready. It’s been a great experience and it was a great way to close out the experience.”

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