The Addams Family" is Jim Leibrecht's favorite production, since the Bishop DuBourg educator's favorite always is the one he's working on at the moment.
The Guild Players at DuBourg will present their 150th production under Leibrecht's directorship Thursday-Saturday, March 30-April 1.
"They're working real hard. This year we've had some new blood, which is good," Leibrecht said in an interview almost three weeks before the curtain rises. "We have some seniors and some younger kids. They're working together ... we're where we need to be."
No doubt they'll be prepared, since Leibrecht is known for giving student-actors the confidence to go beyond what they had thought they were capable of achieving. He's spent the last 45 years developing DuBourg's theater program and its talented performers. Some of the students have had careers in the theater, the most famous of whom is Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz.
Part of Leibrecht's philosophy, he said, is "if you make demands on these kids to do their best, they discover they can do that, and they demand it of themselves."
Leibrecht began teaching English and speech at DuBourg in 1971. He had a background in theater and worked on a doctorate in theater at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he intended to return after teaching two years. In the spring of 1972 he started the Guild Players, and he never returned to California.
Previously, the school had a musical the weekend before Thanksgiving in the gym, but no other theatrical productions. Leibrecht asked if he could use a multipurpose room, was granted permission and started the Guild Players program with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"There was a hole for the kids to do something besides a musical," Leibrecht said. "So it just snowballed, and by 1974 we were doing four shows a year, and the fourth one was a faculty show. We were getting everyone involved."
He's worked with "tons of talented students," he said, reciting the various shows and years. One student went to California, worked on stage and in film and now is directing community theater in St. Louis. Others are teaching theater. "Maybe eight or 10 are doing theater for a living, and then a good number do it as part of community theater," he said.
Leibrecht met Sandy Meyer, a fellow teacher at DuBourg, in the first faculty play. They married and have a son, Justin, who majored in theater at St. Louis University, has acted in St. Louis and now works in events planning for a nonprofit organization. Sandy Leibrecht, who has served for more than 40 years at DuBourg as director of campus ministry and a teacher, helps with the plays.
"It wouldn't be the same group without Sandy," her husband said. "She's kind of the ying to my yang."
The Leibrechts have been married 41 years. They've spent the whole time working together in theater. "It's been incredibly life-giving," Sandy said. "The students are always awesome people to be with."
In education, Jim Leibrecht said, "the students teach you as much as you teach them."
The Guild Players are a family within the DuBourg family, he said. "Theater by its nature is on the edge of the world, and so it draws people who are very different lots of times. I always say we have one of every kind of person God made in the Guild. It's such a mix, and they find a place to fit and belong."
When students "go through those doors, somehow the rest of the world disappears for a few hours," Jim Leibrecht said. "And they can be absolutely who they are. They just let everything down. It's a great place to be yourself and to find all kinds of talent you didn't know you had."
When he sees new students trying out, they're nervous but by the time of the show, "they're just bursting with energy and confidence."
Sandy Leibrecht said the students learn discipline, memorizing their lines and where to stand. Students involved in the arts develop their personality, and are enriched intellectually, mentally and spiritually, the Leibrechts said. "It's a special part of the four years they're here," she said.
A recent attempt to research the Guild Players shows it has more than 750 alumni. Alumni returned to do a summer production several times and then did a revue in January some years to raise funds for the theater program. The faculty show evolved into productions with faculty and students, and sometimes included alumni.
The Leibrechts call alums their "friends and family," a special part of DuBourg, many with lifelong friendships.
The play group prays a Hail Mary before performances and asks for St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and theater, to pray for them. Many of the performers also use their talents as singers and lectors at Mass.
"I tell them, 'God gives you gifts, you gotta use them,' Jim Leibrecht said. He and his wife show the students that they are solid, faith-filled people who are open about talking about faith. "How we approach things is influenced by the fact that we're Catholic and we are a Catholic school," he said, adding that he especially enjoys productions such as "A Man for All Seasons," which has a direct faith connection.
As the students enter adulthood, Sandy Leibrecht said, "they carry that faith with them. That's really gratifying."
>> Jim Leibrecht
TEACHES: English and theater at Bishop DuBourg High School, since 1971
EDUCATION: St. Benedict College (now Benedictine), 1964-68, major in English, minor in theater; master's degree in theater, St. Louis University, 1970; law degree from SLU, 1990.
FAMILY: Wife, Sandy also teaches and is director of campus ministry at DuBourg; son, Justin. Two brothers who are retired from ministry, Father Robert Leibrecht and Bishop John Leibrecht, and a sister, Marilyn Brockmann
UPCOMING: Directing "The Addams Family," at DuBourg
ADVICE: Be loyal and passionate
Honoring Jim Leibrecht
In recognition of Leibrecht's contributions, Bishop DuBourg is seeking contributions to make renovations to the theater at the school. To make a contribution, send a check made out to Bishop DuBourg High School, to:
Bishop DuBourg High School
Attn: Theater renovations
5850 Eichelberger St.
St. Louis, MO 63109
Obie Award winner, others cite impact of Leibrecht
DuBourg Guild Players motivated by teacher's passion, energy
By Joseph Kenny | [email protected] | twitter: @josephkenny2
John Clancy is the executive director of the League of Independent Theater and board chair of The Independent Theater Fund, both in New York.
In 2006, he was named a winner of the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Direction. He was the founding artistic director of The New York International Fringe Festival and was honored with six Scotsman Fringe Firsts at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, two Best of the Festivals at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, a Glasgow Herald Angel Award for direction and a New York Magazine Award for "creativity, enterprise and vision." In 2007, his company was awarded the inaugural Edinburgh Festival Award by the Edinburgh International Festival.
In other words, he's a big deal in the theater world.
But back in 1978, he was kicked out of University City High School and wasn't even sure if he'd go to college.
Clancy got involved in theater at Bishop DuBourg High School under the direction of Jim Leibrecht and, as they say, the rest is history. He appeared in "Man for All Seasons," "Pippin" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" at DuBourg.
"Working with Jim in high school turned my whole life around," Clancy wrote in an email message. "Jim's dedication, commitment and passion inspired me and put me on my life's path."
Jim Butz, who was in plays in the 1970s at DuBourg, said Leibrecht, who is directing his 150th production of DuBourg's Guild Players, has done challenging shows, not the typical high school fare.
Butz met his wife playing in "The Importance of Being Earnest" at DuBourg. His brother, Norbert, got his theatrical start there and now is a Tony Award-winning performer on Broadway.
Leibrecht "has mellowed throughout the years," Steve Butz said, explaining that he was as demanding as a high school football coach — wanting the students to perform as well in a show as a sports team is expected to play in a big game. "His love of the students and the love of doing truly great theater, that passion never waned," Butz said. "He's as passionate about putting on a great show now as he was in 1974."
Tien Nguyen, a senior at DuBourg, has been involved in the Guild since freshman year, mostly on the stage crew. She's the stage manager for the upcoming "The Addams Family" and was one of the lead characters in "Midsummer Jersey" last fall.
Leibrecht "is very loud and always energetic and happy to be there," Nguyen said. "He has an eye for picking people who may not normally seem like they'd play that character."
Her character in "Midsummer Jersey" was a 'Snookie'-type character, "and he pulled that out of me," said Nguyen, who initially was very shy. "I was able to break out of the shell. He had a huge hand in helping me become her."
Nguyen, who plans to major in biochemistry at St. Louis University, is president of the National Honor Society at DuBourg, in the DB Academy of Advanced Studies and is on the swim team. She encourages students to come to DuBourg to take advantage of the opportunity to shine on stage.
Gus Buck's parents met in high school and were both in the Guild Players and have done alumni shows. They're members of the same parish as the Leibrechts, St. Dominic Savio in Affton. A sophomore, Buck was in "Steel Magnolias" and "Midsummer Night Jersey." He also plays baseball and basketball at DuBourg, is in the Academy of Advanced Studies, on student council, the Scholar Bowl, math team and a student ambassador.
"I've always loved being up on stage in front of people," Buck said, adding that DuBourg has been "a perfect fit."
The Leibrechts, he said, "are great people. You can always go up and talk to one of them."
They find the right role for the right students, he said. In "Midsummer Jersey," three sophomores and a senior played a lead, whereas in a bigger school the seniors get the leads, Buck said.
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>> 'The Addams Family'
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 30-April 1
WHERE: Bishop DuBourg High School, Eichelberger and Hampton Avenues in south St. Louis
WHO: The Guild Players at Bishop DuBourg High School, 46th season, 150th production under the direction of Jim Leibrecht
CAST: Aaron Tucker, Nikki Schnelker, Ellie Lore, Garrett Glosemeyer, Patrick Meehan, Eddie Gund, Hannah Loranger, Mitchell Davis, Aaron Hughes, Sydney Russell, Charles Bodman, Aideen Floretta, Sheridan Williams, Macie Proctor and Alice Nowotny
STAGE MANAGERS: Abby Dennis and Tien Nguyen
TICKETS: Email [email protected]