Pierre Jones waved his hands, sweeping the room. His mouth twisted into a frown and his eyes seemed to plead with the 40 or so teen-agers seated before him.
"Don't you understand, when death knocks at your door no one wants to be at home. I'm only 14 years old. Surely I didn't deserve to die. But death doesn't ask your age," he said, his voice quivering.
Jones went on to describe how he stole a car to impress his "home boys," went joy riding and crashed into a diesel truck. Dropping to his knees, he implored the teens to be careful and not "end up like me, dead at the age of 14."
The Glendale High School theater filled with applause as Jones, 17 and a senior at John Muir High School in Pasadena, walked off. He had recited a monologue entitled "A Teen-ager Speaks From the Grave" as his audition for free acting classes offered by the Academy of Performing and Visual Arts.
He and about 135 other students showed up Saturday at the 1440 E. Broadway campus to audition or present portfolios for the voice, dance, drama, music and art classes that will be offered free to budding young performers and artists at five sites throughout the county, including Glendale High.
Academy officials had advertised 1,000 openings--200 at each site. But only 560 students auditioned Saturday at the five spots around the county, said Sharon Levin, consultant for the academy.
"We expected a little bit larger turnout, but the kids that were there were of a very, very high caliber," Levin said. Because of the low turnout, the academy has decided to continue to accept applications, and students will be able to audition on Oct. 11, the first day of classes. But that does not guarantee that all the students who auditioned Saturday will be accepted, officials said. The students will be notified this week.
Glendale High was used as a site when the academy began in 1984 but was dropped the next year when state funds were reduced. The program is paid for by the state, local school districts, private donations and grants, Levin said.
At a recent Glendale school board meeting, Glendale Deputy Supt. Donald W. Empey at first got a cool reception when he submitted a proposal to again allow the academy to use Glendale High. Empey said the program was worthwhile even though he could not guarantee that it would not be dropped again after one year.
But the board changed its mind and unanimously voted to welcome the academy back to the campus.
Levin said administrators need not worry about a second sudden cancellation because the academy relies less on state funding than it did two years ago. The wider range of funding sources means more stability, she said.
The academy was organized by UCLA Extension and a consortium of 41 Los Angeles County school districts to help restore arts education programs eliminated in public schools after enactment of Proposition 13, the property-tax limitation initiative, in 1978.
At Glendale High on Saturday most of the students seemed pleased to have the chance to attend such classes close to home.
Offers Comedy Sketch
Take Chris Reed, a ninth-grader at Wilson Junior High in Glendale. As others auditioned, the blond youth rocked in his chair, occasionally pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
At school, according to some of his classmates, he is considered a bit of a klutz. Reed acknowledged his awkwardness but said he had been bitten by the acting bug ever since he had portrayed a nursery-rhyme character in a kindergarten production of Mother Goose.
When his turn came, he spilled out of his chair and headed for the stage. He grabbed a chair for a prop, almost dropped it, then sat down, clutched an imaginary car steering wheel in his hands and proceeded to bring down the house with a comedy sketch about a frightened, hysterical instructor giving a woman her first driving lesson.
"I was nervous, but I knew I could do it. I've always wanted to make people laugh with me, not at me, and acting is one way to do that," Reed said later.
Not everyone got through the drama auditions easily. One girl began reciting a poem when the words seem to flee her. She stood staring into space, before asking instructor Beverly Banfield f she could start again. Banfield said yes and the teen-ager again began her poem, this time getting through it with only a few pauses.
In the music room on the other side of the campus, instructor Rhonda L. Dillon, a former music teacher at South Pasadena High School, was holding auditions for a singing class and a musical comedy chorale. One at a time she listened to 19 students, testing their voice range and letting them sing a song of their choice.
'It's Scary as Hell'
"I know it's scary as hell to get in front of an audience. Even Frank Sinatra still has to go the bathroom before he goes on," Dillon said to one tense student.