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Park drama students in the spotlight

For Justin Cooke, choosing drama was, in part, a process of elimination.

"I tried sports, but after three broken arms I decided to try out for the school play," he said of his first acting experience in junior high.

He liked it and there were no further injuries as Cooke moved up to act in plays and musicals at Park High School.

Persistence and practice paid off for Cooke and three other Park students who will be honored June 8 by the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which sponsors the Spotlight Musical Theater Program. The ceremony will be held at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

The school was awarded an honorable mention for its musical, "Guys and Dolls," directed by Park teacher Tim Hofmann, that was performed in April.

Cooke, for his role as Sky Masterson, Hannah Lindquist for her role as Adelaide, and Shane Penn for his role as Nathan Detroit, won awards for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role.

Winning honorable mention in supporting roles were Matt Nelson who played Benny and Ben Winkler as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

Along with their awards from the trust, students received an additional honor bestowed by State Rep. Karla Bigham on Thursday, May 28, in the school auditorium.

She presented them with a proclamation from the Minnesota House of Representatives for being honored by the trust.

After the proclamation, Efe Agbamu, Park principal, also congratulated the students and Hofmann.

Agbamu said she attended a "Guys and Dolls" performance and was pleasantly surprised at the high level of acting ability.

"I couldn't believe they were our kids," she said.

The trust accepts only 25 schools in its program, designed to award honors similar to those given to students in academics and sports, according the trust.

It contracts with theater educators and acting professionals who attend the musicals and give critical feedback through workshops and a collaborative conference.

Hofmann said he entered Park in the program at the beginning of the school year.

It sounded like an interesting way to have professionals look at the show with a "critical eye," he said.

"We, as a school, need to recognize students just as sports does," he said. "They work so long and hard. The musical is the result of two and half months of work."

After receiving the proclamation, the student actors reflected on acting and the honors.

"I took a theater class in eighth grade," said Penn. "I loved the rush of being on stage better than any sport I could play."

The award makes all the hard work worthwhile, he said. "That's not common in the theater. You do the play and you're done."

Winkler said as a youngster that he acted in church plays. Not being a star in academics like his older sister, he decided to pursue acting. "In the 18 shows in junior and senior high, I've only missed being in one of them," he said.

"The award was icing on the cake for what was already an amazing show," Winkler said.

Lindquist started tap dancing when she was 3. "I put on little plays," she said. "I had bad stage fright but I got over it."

The award means a lot, she said, adding it meant a great deal to her to be recognized by a legislator.

"The award is a reflection of how much you want it," Cooke said. "You put forth all you've got and then other people recognize that."

Judy Spooner can be reached at

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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