Hillside High School acting troupe is bound for Cuba

Hillside High School drama students will visit Cuba as part of a cultural excange program April 8-14. The students will see sights such as the Capitol building (pictured) in Havana.
Hillside High School drama students will visit Cuba as part of a cultural excange program April 8-14. The students will see sights such as the Capitol building (pictured) in Havana. Special to The Herald-Sun

After more than a year of planning and raising money, Hillside High School’s much vaunted “One Voice Acting Troupe” is heading to Cuba on Saturday to take part in a much-anticipated cultural exchange over spring break.

Eight members of the acting troupe, six chaperones and trip organizer Cressie Thigpen will depart Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 7:15 a.m., and after a brief stopover in Miami, arrive in Havana around noon.

Thigpen, a retired judge and former N.C. Central University law professor, has been organizing trips to Cuba since 2015 through his travel agency New Perspective Travel.

He said soon after arriving in Havana on Saturday, the group will visit the studio of the classical dance group “Compania Danza Combinatoria, take a walking tour of Old Havana and dine in Cuban restaurants.

“They’re going to be hit right away with the sounds, sights and smells of Cuba,” Thigpen said.

Also, while in Havana, the acting troupe will see a performance by the Afro-Cuban folk group, “Vocal Baobab.”

“It’ll give them a good contrast between the classical dance experience in Cuba and the Afro-Cuban cultural dance experience,” Thigpen said.

The group will depart Havana April 10 to travel to Matanzas where they will engage in cultural exchange with Cuban students and give a performance.

From Mantazas, the group will travel to Varadero on April 12 to tour the city’s cultural sights and to enjoy some leisure time before heading back to Havana to return home on April 14.

Thigpen said the exposure to a different language, culture and different experiences will prove invaluable to students.

He noted that the visit to “Compania Danza Combinatoria’s” dance studio was arranged by a former Hillside student who is now a film student at New York University.

Thigpen said the student traveled to Cuba for a film project and met the director of dance company who he put in touch with Hillside Drama Director Wendell Tabb after learning the acting troupe was traveling to Cuba.

“For me, those are the kinds of contacts they can make that will help them in the future,” Thigpen said. “This young fellow was able to share with the kids who are now at Hillside. Who knows what they [the students in the acting troupe] will be able to share.”

Thigpen said being able to put international travel on college applications will also be a big benefit of the trip.

“It will give them a big advantage over kids who have not traveled abroad,” Thigpen said.

Hillside’s drama students have traveled the world since Tabb added the international travel component to Drama Department’s Professional-Student Theatre Exchange Program in 1995.

Most recently, students have traveled to Beijing, China and Santa Cruz, California as part of the program.

Tabb said the exchange programs allows students to learn from professionals and peers from outside the U.S.

“Performing in Cuba will be an extraordinary experience and an opportunity to bridge cultrual barriers,” Tabb said.

He noted that the students in many of the countries Hillside visits are too poor to travel to the U.S.

“Our exchange is not about whether the other students can come to the United States,” Tabb said. “It’s about an exchange of ideas and beliefs. The students can explore each other’s different cultures and gain more awareness of their educational system and government by attending classes with the host school.”

Taking a dozen or so people out of the country is expensive.

Tabb said each trip costs between $40,000 and $80,000 and much of the money comes from the community and supporters of the theater program’s plays.

“It’s definite a grassroots approach to keep the community invested in its children for educational advancement,” Tabb said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Want to help?

Go to: or mail your contribution to Hillside high School Theatre Program 3727 Fayetteville St., Durham, NC 27707.