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So You Want to Be A Star, Kid? : Theaters That Get Kids Into the Act

March 12, 1992|PAT LAUNER

"We believe in starting with very, very young children," said Barbara Masters, director of education and outreach for the group. Felicita has three classes geared for 3- to 5-year-olds, intended to develop concentration, creativity and coordination, in addition to singing, dancing and mime. Specialized instruction--such as ventriloquism, mask-making and theater games--is offered for students through age 16.

Another Escondido venue for children is the Youtheatre of the Patio Playhouse. The decade-old Youtheatre presents three major productions a year, such as the upcoming "Rumpelstiltskin and the Witches," for which auditions are this weekend. The theater offers a blend of workshops and play production for ages 8-18. Emphasis is placed on making the performances available for children.

In Vista, Santa Fe Elementary School is being converted into an arts magnet school to be named the Vista Academy of the Visual and Performing Arts. The 600-student arts school, grades K-5, is scheduled to open this summer.

The city of Vista already sponsors a year-round day camp for the arts, which will probably move to the campus of the magnet school.

Kathy Brombacher, artistic director of Vista's 12-year-old, highly successful Moonlight Amphitheatre, said she feels the presence of the theater has heightened the community's awareness of the importance of the arts. Moonlight's two annual Youth Theatre productions have been popular with schools and the public.

Moonlight offers Saturday acting, dance and singing workshops in the fall and spring for 7- to 19-year-olds.

When Carlsbad Youth Theatre summer workshops were initiated four years ago, they were "intended to train kids for our own productions. But now they are more like a fine arts summer school," said Will Neblett, president of the Youth Theatre. "To succeed and excel, you need some raw talent, very supportive parents, and a creative looseness. Parents always say, 'Little Johnny is so dramatic at home.' But he may not have the maturity, responsibility and discipline needed to develop the skills."

The Patrons of the Arts organization oversees the Carlsbad Youth Theatre, which presents workshops and productions for 6- to 16-year-olds. After 16, youth theater participants can join The Play Factory, a summer touring company of about a dozen adolescents who perform musicals in schools, clubs and libraries in North County for a fee of $100 to $150.

In order to audition for a Carlsbad Youth Theatre production, participants either have to have taken a workshop with the company or appeared in a Patrons main-stage production.

Director Jim Hall said the program has been successful in attracting both boys and girls. "(There are) a lot more boys than six years ago, due to the success of the project and also because a lot of men are working in the program. There's not as much of a stigma for boys. And there are a lot of women in technical fields, too, doing rigging, lighting, carpentry."

Paul and Sheryl Russell of El Cajon started Christian Community Theatre in 1980 as a wholesome summer theatre arts program. A year later, they added Christian Youth Theatre to provide training in theater arts and full-scale productions for children ages 6 to 18.

Today, two of five branches of the Christian Youth Theater are based in North County, and each presents three full-scale musicals a year. The organization has theater schools and camps in Escondido and Solana Beach, with classes in drama, voice, dance and specialty classes such as clowning, mime and accents/dialects.

Both North County branches hold open auditions for all productions, but students must be enrolled in one of the organization's class.

Like so much of youth theater, the Russells' involvement represents a commitment on the part of parents and children.

Paul Russell is artistic director, his wife, Sheryl, is managing director, and their four children, Travis, 15, Jason, 13, Janie, 10 and Amy, 7, are active participants in Christian Youth Theater productions.

"It's in the blood," Sheryl said. "Jason and Janie are the most serious about their theatrical pursuits; both have appeared at Starlight Musical Theatre. Jason starred in a Christian Youth Theater presentation of 'Peter Pan' and appeared in the Kathy Rigby production at Starlight."

Last year, four Russells were involved in "The Sound of Music" in Escondido; Paul directed, and Janie, Jason and Amy were members of the singing von Trapp family.

"For Travis and Amy," says their mother, "theater is enjoyable, but it's not a passion. But Jason and Janie, give 'em a stage, a few people, and they'll just perform away."

Jason, an articulate 13-year-old, said he figures he was born into theater. "That was my life. It was what everybody around me did. I didn't even think about it. I did my first show at 8, and I have done over 20 plays since. You can't do this if you don't like it. You have to commit yourself to it. When you get in front of people, you have to act like you know what you're doing. You can't be frightened or scared to go up there, volunteer, be the first one to do something."

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