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Orange County Gets a Shot at 'Fame' : Performing Arts School to Open

March 19, 1987|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't exactly like a scene out of television's "Fame," with students joyously singing and dancing up and down the hallways.

But there was no denying the elation that music and drama students at Los Alamitos High School felt this week upon learning that the long-awaited Orange County High School of the Performing Arts will become a reality this fall--on their campus.

The new school-within-a-school, to be modeled after the New York High School for the Performing Arts, will be open to all promising high school visual and performing arts students living in Orange County and neighboring Long Beach, who audition and meet other requirements.

The school, the first of its kind in Orange County, will be the sixth specialized performing arts school in California, joining others in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco.

"This is a dream come true for this community and this high school," said Jean Cross, the school district project specialist and co-writer of the grant proposal funding the school. She said there has been longtime community support throughout Orange County for specialized training in the performing and visual arts. "There are 340,000 kids in Orange County schools, and we didn't have one program in advance training in performing arts."

With South Coast Repertory Theatre, the Orange County Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony, the Orange County Performing Arts Center and other cultural developments, Cross said, "it just seemed a natural to develop a high school for the performing arts in the county."

Los Alamitos High was selected because of its strength in the performing arts, she said.

School officials had been notified more than a week ago that the district had received a $194,700 grant from the state Department of Education to develop the performing arts school.

But they had to wait for final district school board approval of the project Monday night before announcing it to the students. By Tuesday morning word was spreading through Los Alamitos High like news of an open-casting call on Broadway.

"The first thing I did was hit the ceiling--I went crazy," said David Sidoni, a 17-year-old junior who is taking two chorus classes and who has worked summers as a dancer at Disneyland.

"I was shocked," said Susan Egan, 17, a junior with ambitions for performing in musical theater. "Everyone just kind of sat there for a while."

Julie Seaborn, 16, another musical theater aspirant, said: "It doesn't seem real! I can't believe it's actually happening to our school."

Vocal music teacher Ralph Opacic, who co-wrote the grant proposal, heard about the board's approval at 11 a.m. Tuesday and immediately informed his freshman chorus class.

"They responded with cheers," he said. "We've been sitting on this 10 days just waiting to explode. I must have spent 20 minutes answering questions on how do they get in."

Principal Carol Hart views the performing arts school as a "wonderful opportunity" for students.

"With greater emphasis on academic graduation requirements, many schools are limiting elective programs," she said. "This will enable students, within a school day, to retain their interests in drama and music and complete graduation requirements for college."

Plans call for allowing 150 students into the school the first year, with that number doubling to 300 within three years, Cross said.

Students will take regular general education classes, with an additional 15 hours per week of specialized instruction in the arts. These courses will be similar to those found in professional art institutes, she said, and a close relationship between instruction and performance will be encouraged.

Areas of advanced study will include chorus, drama, band, orchestra, dance, stagecraft, art, graphics, photography and video production.

Hart said that a staff for the new school has not yet been selected and that planners are considering "two options for students outside the district: One would be for students to attend Los Alamitos High School full time and the other would be for students to enroll in the performing arts school for 15 hours per week."

The school plans to call on Hollywood agents to come on campus to talk to the students, in addition to professional artists-in-residence who will teach classes, Hart said. "So there will be natural leads into the industry as well."

Graduates will earn a performing arts certificate in addition to their high school diploma.

Brochures will be available this summer. Student selection for the program will include a letter of recommendation, interview, audition (for performing arts students) and project review (for visual arts students).

Cross said students attending Laurel Continuation High School in Los Alamitos--and other students "at risk" of dropping out of school--will be given enrollment priority.

"One of our main goals is to keep (these) kids in school," she said. "The performing arts will give them something to cling on to."

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