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Monterey Park student mime lets his art speak for him--and the White House listens

May 28, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

In Marc Murai's award-winning pantomime, he's "just a guy walking through a park, and he finds things like a baseball and a rope and plays with them; he eats an apple. . . ."

While it may not sound like much the way he tells it, that scene is going to get Murai into the White House and on stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The 18-year-old from Monterey Park, a student at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, has been named one of this year's 140 Presidential Scholars, the nation's highest distinction for high school seniors.

On June 13, Murai will join the other winners from every state in the country for National Recognition Week in Washington, where they will receive Presidential Scholar medallions at a White House ceremony.

The second highlight, for performing arts students such as Murai, will be at Kennedy Center, where they will entertain an audience of other student winners, teachers, families, legislators and government officials.

Murai, son of Gerald and Susan Murai, is the only pantomimist among the 19 scholars who won their awards on the basis of their "superior accomplishment in the arts."

"I got this Mailgram from the President when I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone, and I just started yelling," Murai said. "I'm going to Washington! I can't believe it!"

It was particularly unbelievable, Murai said, "because I'm kind of lazy. I'm not an especially good student. I won't try my hardest sometimes, like when teachers give you three assignments on the same thing."

Patricia Sims, community outreach coordinator at the High School for the Arts, a new school that uses facilities at Cal State Los Angeles, agreed that Murai is not a top scholar. "But when he works, he does great," she said. "I think Marc is wonderful. He has such spirit and enthusiasm and talent."

Presidential Scholars are chosen for academic achievement, leadership and involvement in community and school activities. In addition, the arts students are recognized primarily for superior accomplishment in the arts.

Each winner receives $1,000 to pursue "an educational dream," according to the Department of Education, which conducts the Presidential Scholar program.

The scholars will have breakfast one morning with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, perform in the Kennedy Center on June 15, attend the White House medallion ceremony June 17, and take part in a round of programs and tours. They will stay in dormitories at Georgetown University.

Murai said he was one of 7,000 applicants nationwide in the arts category. He began by sending a video of his mime performance to the Arts Recognition and Talent Search Competition. He was one of 30 to win in the dance category, and the only mime.

In January, Murai was given an all-expense-paid trip to Miami to perform in the finals. "Oh, man, was I nervous!" he said. "I was the only mime, and the other 29 were the best dancers."

But he'd had years of practice, beginning as a child when he saw his first mime and fell in love with the art, Murai said.

"Wow! Lookit! Nothing's there, but it looks like something is," he said, leaping into an impromptu act. "I watched mimes, and then I went home and practiced in front of mirrors."

He joined the Pasadena Street Performers, performed at Los Angeles Street Scene, at a conference for the California Assn. for the Gifted and at children's parties and in hospitals.

After two years at Mark Keppel High School in Monterey Park, he auditioned and won entry into the High School for the Arts, where teacher Vicky Silva became his mentor. Specializing in theater movement, she helped sharpen Murai's skills. She has been invited to accompany him to Washington as one of a group of Distinguished Teachers chosen by the scholars to be honored during Recognition Week.

"What makes Marc different is his tremendous talent, matched with his generosity of spirit," Silva said. "We have a lot of talented kids, but Marc is special because he gives through his art. I think an audience can feel that love, and that is the thing that makes a person so special."

Silva indicated that Murai may have become a Presidential Scholar as much for his community work as for his talent.

He is on the planning committee for Teamwork '87, a statewide youth conference for teen problems sponsored by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. He is president of San Gabriel Valley Safe Rides, which offers free rides home for teens who have been drinking. He is a member of Teen Improv Players, which performs all over the state in skits that deal with the problems of alcohol and drugs. He is a volunteer for Friday Night Live, a center funded by the state Office of Traffic Safety.

"This is just one of my things," Murai said in an attempt to explain why he's seldom home. "I love to help people. There is a solution to problems. We can stop drinking and suicide. You can't just give up."

After graduating in June, Murai hopes to work at Disneyland this summer, then spend a year at some small school specializing in theater arts before pursuing a college education.

"I just want to do what I want to do," he said. "I just want to keep that my goal, and not to become rich and famous. I don't want to be one of those people who hate their job."

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