Pierre Jones waved his hands, sweeping the room. His mouth twisted as he frowned 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 teen-agers 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. His performance won him a place in the academy.
He and about 135 other students showed up on a recent Saturday at the Glendale High School 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 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 Saturday, the first day of classes.
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.
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 the Glendale High auditions, most of the students seemed pleased to have the chance to attend such classes close to home.
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 when he portrayed a nursery-rhyme character in a kindergarten production.
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.
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.
"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.
Even though relatively few students auditioned, Dillon said she was torn as to which ones to select.
Mary Ann Quirke, a professional dance in structor, had no such dilemma. She quickly put 26 dancers--all girls--through moves as music filled the room. She probably would accept them all, she said, because of their "strong desire to learn about dance."
Art students submitted portfolios of their work to support their applications for graphic design and oil painting lasses.
The academy classes will be held on Saturday mornings and are open to students in grades 9 through 12 who live in and attend schools in Los Angeles County. Students do not have to attend classes at the site nearest them, because not all of the about 20 subjects are offered at every location. Most sites draw students from their surrounding communities, officials said.
The other locations for the programs are Beverly Hills High, Excelsior High in Norwalk, Redondo Union High in Redondo Beach and Foshay Junior High in Los Angeles.
The classes are not for school credit. Students will receive written evaluations rather than letter grades from the 40 instructors.