Ever since Dominican High School opened its doors in 1956 as a private Catholic High School, its mission has been to give students the opportunity to master the skills they would need to succeed at the college level and to provide the faith and character instruction necessary to prepare them to face real-life challenges far beyond the boundaries of a high school campus.

Who could have guessed that the school would also develop and nourish a robust theatrical department that would give these students their very own chance to stretch their creative talents to the limit? To fly and to shine. For more than 60 years, Dominican High School’s theater department has been a place where audiences, alumni, aspiring students and others can be inspired, entertained and genuinely moved by the levels of talent and energy exuded by these students.

One additional, amazing byproduct of the theatre department has been the creation of a state-of-the-art costume and prop shop featuring thousands of hand-made costumes. Browse around and you’ll delight to see custom works from such productions as “Phantom of the Opera” to “Hairspray” and “Little Mermaid” and all the way to the school’s latest winter musical, “Big Fish.”

“The state-of-the-art part is really the people involved,” explained Theater Director Jeff Schaetzke. “We have wonderful leaders and volunteers that help us with everything. I am very biased because our leader is my mom, Barb Minter, who has been costuming shows at Dominican with me for 21 years. She always has a beautiful vision and a beautiful personal touch to everything. Her assistant, Karen Dolan, the two of them have worked together and we have other beautiful people leading and then we have great volunteers.

“The department has been here for almost 60 years. Since its opening, Dominican has always had a remarkable performing arts focus. The sisters built it with a performing arts focus for the North Shore so we have a beautiful auditorium and a beautiful prop room and a huge stage that’s always been available to our students. My tech director, Bryn Van Beek, my beautiful friend of 21 years, runs a stage director’s school that has about 30 students that build and paint, do lights and sound and then actually run the show. Our students run the show at Dominican and we don’t hire out for a bunch of sound people to come in. We’ve trained them to do it themselves.”

Karen Dolan has been a costumer with the department for nine years and it’s clear this is truly a labor of love for her and everyone connected to these stage productions.

“This department is amazing.” said Dolan. “Theater encompasses so many different talents and skill sets. Whereas one person can sing, the other one can build and paint a set. It is just all over the place with inclusivity and everyone gets a chance to shine and to participate.”

Certainly, a production like “Big Fish” offers something for everyone in the costume department.

“They (costumers) have a love for this time period, the 60s, the 80s and the 2000s, so we have circus numbers and a western number. We have tap numbers and beautiful USO red, white and blue numbers. There’s about 400 costumes in the show for all 50 characters that are in and every one is made with love.”

In this particular case, the costume department is so deep that not all new costumes actually needed to be built.

“We have a vast collection of costumes,” Dolan explained. “We’ve done so many different shows that we’ve built and, for instance, for ‘Big Fish’ we pulled from our shop the majority of costumes. We didn’t have to build them. A couple of the numbers we had to build but we have such a deep shop that we could just pull costumes and there are 40-plus students who are involved in our musicals.”

As the saying goes, sometimes life imitates art. As these students play act life’s ups and downs, they live in a world fraught with hard challenges and potential dangers. Being involved in positive endeavors such as working in the theater department is just one creative way these youngsters can learn to face real world realities.

“Our students are light,” said Schaetzke. “We certainly know where they are in their lives. They come to us in their very formative years, 14-18. They come with gifts and we hope to encourage them to use their gifts. We know that they are going to have struggles, but we’re going to hopefully work through their struggles with them, and then show and help them so they are going to use their gifts and expand them the best they possibly can.

“We try to tell as many different stories as we can in different ways. We challenge our students to be as professional as they possibly can. At the same time, they are wonderful students, sons and daughters themselves. We build relationships and every time there is a new production, there’s a new family and a new story that comes out of that. Hopefully, it’s a family that works hard, has a lot of fun, gets through a little problem solving together and ends up putting together a wonderful show that we can share with audiences.”