Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2008 | People

One-Act Wonder: Revel Gholston

By Shelbi Thomas
Revel Gholston sends his apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Revel Gholston, a high school theater instructor and house manager for the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts in Alabama, says, "If there's anything going on in theater in Opelika, it's probably going on through me."

Each show in the Walter Trumbauer Theatre Festival of Alabama had to be performed—from setup to take-down—in 45 minutes or less. So, to create buzz about his school's debut in the one-act play competition this past fall, Opelika High School theater instructor Gholston cut Webber's Broadway hit Cats to 30 minutes.

"I knew the judges would either love me, because they thought the two- and-a-half hour show was too long," says Gholston, 00BA, "or they'd say, 'You ruined it!'"

Gholston was hired right after his UI graduation to jumpstart Opelika's dying theater program. The school, which serves many economically disadvantaged families, then offered few opportunities for students to get involved in drama. Gholston opened auditions up to the entire school, expanded the number of theater classes, and recruited members of the band, show choir, art club, and woodshop to participate. With time, some of his most reluctant students ended up with starring roles in the school plays.

No one expected Opelika to be at the Trumbauer Festival, much less to tamper with a proven play. Yet the underdogs of Alabama high school theater played with the big dogs—Birmingham and Huntsville, who take their drama titles as seriously as football—and earned their respect with Cats. The troupe received a standing ovation from a 900-strong crowd, winning best costume and an all-star cast member nod.

Gholston says that drama has helped his students gain confidence and see college as a viable option for the future. "We've always had kids with talent," says Gholston, who emphasizes professionalism in his classes. "Now they have a place to let it out."