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Darlene Thiele (left) and Ona Gabriel have a lot of in common, much of it connected with St Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Gabriel directed plays there for more than 35 years, and Thiele now is directing them. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)

Seton School play directors share bond and good memories

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Seton School play directors share bond and good memories
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

Almost 40 years ago, Ona Gabriel started the drama program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. One of her students was Darlene Thiele.

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Now, Thiele is the one directing plays at SEAS.

Last week, Gabriel came back to the school to meet with Thiele. For a short period of time last Thursday morning, the two shared their knowledge and memories about drama and what it has meant to them and their students.

Give them both a lot of credit.

Being involved in a drama program and in plays came naturally to Gabriel. She performed on stage in high school and in college. She had three majors in college - English, drama and speech. She loved them all, she said.

When she came to then Guardian Angels Catholic School in the early 1960s, there was no play and there were no drama classes.

"I thought - let's start it," she said. "So I started it. Drama is one of the greatest things."

The drama class has remained one of the required classes at the school since that time. Being in a play was part of the class and it still is.

"The arts appeal to some students who maybe don't like the other subjects too much," said Thiele. "They just love drama.

"For some students who usually are so quiet, or don't say a lot, the drama is what they look forward to. They have a blast."

When the drama program began, it was for seventh- and eighth-grade students, Gabriel recalled.

"In the seventh grade, we had three one-act plays (and) we did the comedies," said Gabriel "In eighth grade, it was the drama."

Both directors agreed on the hardest part of the drama class.

"The hardest part was finding a play," said Gabriel, "so that everyone had a part."

"Sometimes you write additional parts," said Thiele.

Gabriel nodded her head in agreement.

"And you know, the kids look back and they talk about being in the play," said Gabriel. "They remember it. It is such a confidence builder for them."

"The kids do remember it," said Thiele.

Several students she had in the class, Gabriel remembers, had challenges with their speech. But as soon as they got up on the stage, it was a different world.

"They had so much fun," she said.

"And you now, too, what I've observed, is that the kids love to dress up," said Thiele.

Through the years, some costumes, such as formals, have been donated. Some, like for this year's "The Worst (Best) Christmas Pageant," have been borrowed.

The two most famous ones this year were two Hastings firefighter's uniforms for Kirk Kranz and Dylan Lynch who played firefighters in the play. When they went to the Hastings Fire Department to ask to borrow the uniform, the two also learned about the fire station.

Except for one time (under Thiele's direction), the play has always gone on. She said one of actors had appendicitis; there were other considerations such as extremely icy weather conditions.

When Thiele "took over" the drama program, she said it was an honor, referring to Gabriel as a "fixture of the school."

"I have directed five of my own children in their eighth-grade play and have had a child at SEAS since 1994," she said. Her last child graduates from SEAS next year.

Gabriel was invited to "The Worst (Best) Christmas Pageant," last week, and it was a time to visit, catch up on news with everyone at the school and remember those days gone by.

"I still miss it," said Gabriel. "I was here 37 years, and every September, when school starts, I think about it again."

They are good memories ... and part of the school's ongoing traditions.

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Jane Lightbourn
(651) 319-4503
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