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South Coast Repertory Workshop Helps Youngsters Develop Their Self-Esteem --With Dramatic Results : PLAY BYPLAY

September 23, 1988|MICHELE MITCHELL | Michele Mitchell, a June graduate of Esperanza High School, this week began studies in journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and plans to become a playwright. Here, reporting on the South Coast Repertory's Children's Theatre Workshop, she combines the two writing disciplines.

Act I: Chuck Vogel

(It's Chuck Vogel's turn in rehearsal at South Coast Repertory's Children's Theatre Workshop (CTWII). Vogel, a freshman at St. Margaret's High School in San Juan Capistrano, drags himself toward instructor Howard Shangraw with all the cheer of a man facing a firing squad. His 16 classmates, ages 13 to 16, watch with interest.)

VOGEL: Howard, I had a heck of a time with this character. I can't do him. I never hated any of my teachers.

SHANGRAW: You're telling someone you're glad they're not teaching at your school anymore. It's not brain surgery.

VOGEL: It's the snotty part I'm having trouble with. I've been trying not to be that way lately.

SHANGRAW: (seizing this) Now's your chance. Play .

(Diane Doyle, the Young Conservatory's director, enters right. She has had the position since 1974, a year after the conservatory was founded, and has built it from a few classes to the four-level Young Conservatory classes during the school year and two intense two-week summer workshops, CTWI for beginners and CTWII for more advanced talent. She has an air of fierce protectiveness when around her "kids.")

DOYLE: (as lights fade on Vogel and spotlight her) The whole point is to develop self-esteem, to make these kids confident to speak in front of people. The Young Conservatory (which started Sept. 9 and runs through next June 17) is acting training. They learn mime, improvisation, audition techniques. But in CTWII, the kids are working toward a production. Sometimes Young Conservatory students will go into the CTWI program, and vice versa. But CTWII is so much more creative. I give them a single idea--this year, it was "growing up"--and they go from there. They brainstorm ideas, they write the dialogue. They get to hear their own words and see their own creation--all in two weeks.

(Lights illuminate Vogel again. Vogel is sitting in his stage position, nervously tapping his foot as he begins to write a letter.) VOGEL: (pushing the words) "Dear Mrs. Kushman: You'll never know how happy I was when I heard" (he breaks). . . . Is this interesting? I don't know how to do him, Howard! Can I just be me?

SHANGRAW: Be you. Just be you.

(Spotlight on Doyle) DOYLE: Howard's fantastic. He's an actor with SCR. He even wrote a song for "Growing Up." He had each of the kids write a letter to someone, and from that they wrote a play.

(Spotlight on Shangraw as he waves for attention. It is late August, the first day of class) SHANGRAW: I want you to write on any topic. Now, I know this is Orange County, where your biggest problem is whether to buy red or white Reeboks, but go ahead and write on what you want: drugs, sex, parents. . . (Lights dim; spotlight on Doyle, who is now flipping through a copy of the script) DOYLE: You can tell teen-agers wrote it. It's on subjects they think are important: a best friend hurt them, taking drugs, problems with parents, suicide. But (fiercely) that's all right. They've got ideas, and they're good ideas.

(Light fades on Doyle and illuminates Vogel and Shangraw. The latter has a relaxed air; he slumps in his chair, his arm draped across the back of it. But his eyes are intense and focused at this moment on Vogel.) SHANGRAW: (to Vogel) Do what you want to do.

VOGEL: But my teachers always like me. I always like them.

(Spotlight on Shangraw only) SHANGRAW: (lighting a cigarette) Chuck overstresses. I like to tell him it's only acting; it's not brain surgery. I think now he's learning to calm down and have some fun. (Light fades in; to Vogel, louder) You like all your teachers?

VOGEL: (faintly) There is one teacher I didn't like. My P.E. teacher. (Shangraw opens his mouth to speak, but instead, he just looks sideways at Vogel. Vogel's face slowly lights in understanding.) . . . OK. I'm ready. (Shangraw nods; Vogel tears into the monologue with glee) "Dear Mrs. Johnson: You'll never know how happy I was when I heard you left our school. . . ." (Turns to the audience) This all started when I was watching TV and I saw Ricky Schroder. I mean, what's so good about him? So I came to see Theatre Workshop II. (With a grin) I mean, people always told me I fool people well! (He turns back to Shangraw and finishes his monologue) "Mrs. Johnson, I mean, you couldn't teach math! . . ." (Light fades.)

Act II: Robin LeMaster

(Spotlight on Doyle) DOYLE: You get all kinds of kids here. Shy ones, weird ones, the crazy self-centered girls, the little Carol Burnetts . . . (Spotlight fades as it illuminates Robin LeMaster, a freckled, red-head whose hair is loosely pulled back from her face. Her eyes blink solemnly behind her glasses as she finishes a letter to a friend who committed suicide.) LeMASTER: (In a halting voice) "Why didn't you talk to me? I would have listened. . . ."

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