On Friday, June 4, 2021, W.A.M.P.U.S. staff member Autumn Fenske interviewed former Boonton High School teacher Barbara Stahle about her role in starting the GSA show 50 years ago. Stahle and another BHS teacher, Jean Costello, were co-founders of the popular event.
Mrs. Foster, who participated in the first GSA show, and Ms. Seegers, adviser to W.A.M.P.U.S., also took part in the interview.
This year, it will be held on June 10, 11 and 12 at 6 p.m. The following are edited highlights of the interview:
Autumn: Hello and welcome to the W.A.M.P.U.S. interview. We’re going to be asking you some questions… I want to get to know you as a teacher.
Mrs. Stahle: I taught a couple months short of 10 years. I taught English. I got drawn to activities because I was sort of known as a rather rigid English teacher. There was more to me than that. Someone had invited me to choreograph the high school musicals and that’s how I became involved with dance in the school and that led to the sports night.
The first two years I was the yearbook adviser. I got involved with the choreography with the high school musicals. From that, I formed a dance club. And, of course, the GSA show.
Autumn: What was different? What were big parts of Boonton when you were there?
Mrs. Stahle: What I find about high schools is you can change the student body, you can change the activities but, when all is said and done, it’s all pretty much the same. A huge difference now for me is a computer is involved.
Autumn: What really started to make you think you wanted to start GSA?
Mrs. Stahle: I did it in high school. We had a show there. I grew up in Wayne. It was a very big thing at Wayne High School when I was attending. I thought it would be a nice thing to bring to Boonton because the girls didn’t have a lot to do back then. I know there’s a lot more girls sports now. I thought it might be fun to put it together.
Not teaching gym, of course, I took it to the principal and I was sent to Jean Costello… She liked the idea and got it cleared through the head of the phys ed department and we began putting it together.
Autumn: Where was the first GSA performance held?
Mrs. Stahle: In the gym.
Mrs. Foster (to Autumn): Do you know who Jean Costello is?
Mrs. Stahle: She took on the bulk of the work. Because she was in the gym, the girls would go to the gym with questions… My role was to see to my share of the activities which were dance. The tap and the modern dance… Back then we had marching. That came directly from my high school experience. The feeling was if you couldn’t dance or you couldn’t tumble or you didn’t want to try the high-low bars, you could march. Anybody can march. It gave an opening for everyone to participate.
There were marching routines and, to tell you truth, they were some of the most attractive routines in the show. The groups would be very large. A lot of girls would turn out for that because they were more confident in it. They’d do all different kinds of formations. Remember, we had themes and so they had to adapt to the teams. There was some very clever formation work. It had to be regimented because an error stood out. They were very effective numbers on the gym floor.
I think over time, you gave up marching and I went to ribbon dancing.
Mrs. Foster: I think they do glow wands now.
Mrs. Stahle: I once did a dance number in black light. That was very unnerving because we used lit canes and the makeup. We had 20 kids on stage. If one kid flipped their cane in the wrong direction, it stood out like a sore thumb. I imagine glow lights would do the same thing.
Autumn: From what I hear, it wasn’t always two separate teams. It was one group and then, eventually, it separated into teams. What made you want to do that?
Mrs. Stahle: That never happened. From the top, we started with two separate teams and it was a competition. Jean would assign them from the gym rolls. The only thing that guaranteed a team you’d be on is if you had a sibling on one team. They’d put you on the same team. You didn’t get to pick your team.
Autumn: You mentioned a lot of different parts of GSA. Out of all the parts, you’ve taught or seen, what was your favorite to teach or watch?
Mrs. Stahle: In my years of dance, I always loved tap. I was an excellent acrobat. I enjoyed watching the tap routines come together most to see how challenging they’d be. A lot were non dancers. Very difficult thing to do. The modern dancers were probably the most effective on the floor. Tumbling was fun. They would always be the fun characters. If the theme was the circus, they were the clowns.
I’m told you no longer do the gymnastics portion which is a shame. That was a thrilling part to watch. To see those girls on the high-low bars or walking the balance beam, it was the typical audience thriller. Is she going to fall? Is she going to make it? How is she going to do?
Autumn: You started this as something for the girls to participate in. Did you ever think it would be this big of a hit?
Mrs. Stahle: No. No. I did not. Even the initial turnout was so much larger than we had expected. I’m delighted to hear that 50 years later that it still exists.A great thing for the girls to gain some athletic recognition. This is their night. The guys on the audio visual aids team did would do all the lighting and mikes. I couldn’t believe when Mrs. Foster said you were still doing it.
Ms. Seegers: What were the teams based on? They’re usually based on Disney.
Mrs. Stahle: The popular movies of the day. They’d reach out past the Disney theme. I think the Disney theme is something everyone grabs onto because there’s so much you can do with it. It’s fantasy to begin with so it’s easy to put together fantasy.
The link to the full interview is below: