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San Diego School Children Are Learning Some Lessons About the Arts

October 26, 1987

SAN DIEGO — Bringing the excitement of live opera performance into the classroom is a little like trying to give the full flavor of a circus with only a pair of clowns and a bag of peanuts.

Scaling down this extravagant, sophisticated art form, yet retaining its essence, is the primary challenge to stage director and actor, William Roesch.

Roesch, San Diego Opera's education director, wants to erase the usual operatic stereotypes.

"With young people, you've got to banish the image of opera as a fat lady wearing horns and carrying a spear," he said. "You need to capture the imagination of the kids on a visual level, I think, even more than on an auditory level.

Capturing the imagination and interest of children is a challenge facing not just the opera, but most San Diego arts institutions.

Museums, dance companies, theaters and the San Diego Symphony promote the arts through a varied array of educational programs specially designed for school children. Here is a look at some of these programs.

Theater

This fall as students sit at their desks, sharpening their pencils, at least eight theater companies will follow right behind them, sharpening a variety of plays, musicals, revues and workshops. Whether they're dealing with the holiday season or the coming Old Globe season, touring shows are a growing business with long, as well as short-term goals.

The La Jolla Playhouse is the latest company to join the school touring show ranks with "Silent Edward," the American premiere of a one-act musical with book, music and lyrics by the Playhouse's artistic director, Des McAnuff.

First written in 1973, this story of a boy and girl who fight to save a historic ferryboat was inspired by a ferry that McAnuff used to ride when he was a child. While that particular ferry was never in danger, McAnuff recalls his concern about the rapid growth that closed ferries all over southern Toronto where he grew up. It's a concern he believes that students in rapidly developing city of San Diego will understand.

The musical, designed for grades 2-8, will be followed by a discussion of the Coronado Ferry and other aspects of San Diego history.

The Old Globe offers two touring shows. From November to April, the theater features a program tied into its winter shows. Two to four actor-teachers from the Young Globe company give students a 45-minute preview of a current Old Globe show in the classroom.

The students also get tickets to the show preceded by a 45-minute tour of the design facilities at the theater and a post-performance discussion with the actors.

The Globe switches to "Shakespeare From Page to Stage," a guide to the theater's summer Shakespeare offerings, from the beginning of April to mid-June.

As Diane Sinor, the Globe's education director, put it, "We want to make not only new audiences, but better audiences, people who are really present in the theater."

The Lamb's Players Theatre has been doing a variety of touring shows for most of the 17 years of its existence. But it is only in the last two years that the focus shifted to substance abuse. To obtain the Southwest rights to "Say No, Max" and "I Am the Brother of Dragons," both developed by the St. Francis Medical Center in Pittsburgh with Saltworks Theatre Co., they had to agree that anyone with any direct contact with the productions gets at least 40 hours of pharmacology and family counseling.

The Lamb's Players five-member touring group did their training at the Scripps Memorial McDonald Center.

"It's been an education for us," said Lamb's Players veteran Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who oversees the project.

Art

While art appreciation courses have all but vanished from many official curriculums, institutions and individual artists strive to keep their craft before children.

The largest mural in the city (more than 5,000 square feet) is now in progress at Balboa Elementary School under the direction of muralist Victor Ochoa, an "artist in the schools" funded by the California Arts Council and the San Diego City Schools.

Ochoa, who is also working on a mural at Sherman Elementary, said the projects relate to the "community murals" made informally in the 1960s. Themes for the murals in the schools come directly from the community and from students. The students, who have done about 50% of the painting, "incorporate their feelings and thoughts into the murals," the muralist said.

Ochoa also develops different hands-on projects monthly to teach students about particular historical events. In January, he plans to mount an exchange exhibition of paintings by San Diego and Tijuana students with the border as the theme.

The San Diego Museum of Art's outreach program for students prepares fifth- and sixth-grade students for a museum visit through a slide presentation. The 30-minute presentations relate to works in the museum collection.

The Museum of Photographic Arts' school program expands this two-part scheme to include a third dimension, in which the children create art themselves.

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