By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
PLANO — More than 350 people filed into the cafetorium at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic School on the evening of May 11 for the one and only public, student-led performance of “Joseph the Dreamer;” a musical that comes not from Broadway, but from the desk of the school’s pastor.
“We had a good number of parishioners that don’t have kids at the school but support it,” said Father Clifford Smith, who has served as pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist since 2005. “We even had a few kids that are now in high school that worked with me last year.”
Father Smith has been a priest in the Diocese of Dallas since he was ordained in 1996. For much of his life, he dreamed of and pursued a career in theatre, earning two masters’ degrees in theatre — one from the University of Northern Illinois, and the other from Trinity University in San Antonio. But after five years as a theatre professor at Stephen F. Austin University and a two-year apprenticeship with the Dallas Theatre Center, he admitted he got burned out and left the industry altogether.
Fast-forward to 2015 and a conversation between Father Smith and St. Mark the Evangelist music teacher Patty Corsi, who asked him if he would bring his talents to bear with her music students and be a guest speaker in class.
“I thought ‘I can do more than that,’ so I made a commitment,” Father Smith said. “So today, it’s our class.”
With 22 students in the elective class, Father Smith and Corsi put together the school’s first original musical. Last year, the two adapted “Alice in Wonderland” for the stage and directed students in the performance, but this is the first time an original musical was performed. Father Smith wrote all of it and even created costumes for the students. Corsi, with the help of St. Mark the Evangelist music ministry coordinator Kenton Kravig, developed an original score. The project took a full year to develop and finally stage.
“It’s a whole new experience because when you’ve been teaching music for so many years, you appreciate the fact that a pastor, with all his gifts is opening more of his gifts to us,” said Corsi, who has been teaching music to students at St. Mark the Evangelist for the last 12 years. “His imagination and the way he’s worked with us has been huge.”
The two are already in the process of adapting “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Polyanna” for future student performances.
Father Smith said these days, he is simply a fan of the stage. When time allows, he visits the Winspear Opera House or the AT&T Performing Arts Center when a show is playing. For a few days during the summer, he also visits the famed Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario, Canada.
And while the class at St. Mark has allowed Father Smith to dip his toes back into theatre, he said time has given him a much broader perspective on why he ultimately wasn’t meant for a lifelong career in the industry.
“To be honest, my best experience in the theater business was discovering it was not what I wanted to do with my life, and getting out of it led to my journey to the priesthood,” Father Smith said. “For me, theatre is an avocation but my experience gives me the opportunity to realistically talk to students about being in professional theater. It’s been good to work with them.”