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The Fine Art of Fame : High School Teaches Young Talents Nuts and Bolts of Show Business

December 26, 1992|CATHERINE GEWERTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Over all this creativity presides Opacic, an intensely friendly, high-energy guy whose dark hair stands straight up at the forehead. By age 16, the Virginia native was a sought-after club singer and came to California with dreams of a recording career. But he couldn't crack the success code, and he found himself teaching music and choir in Los Alamitos. Remembering his own frustration, Opacic was instrumental in designing OCHSA's how-to curriculum.

Now, to stroll the campus with Opacic is to spend time with someone who is nuts about his job. He shares a jovial, back-slapping relationship with the students. On most campuses, principals are "Mr." or "Mrs." Here, where there is a director , they call him "Ralph."

Even brief conversations with these kids reveal sparks of distinction. They have a vivid energy, and when they begin talking one feels as if a curtain has just risen. They clearly relish the chance to talk about their dreams and what OCHSA has done for them.

Stephanie Block, 20, a 1990 graduate, said that before she came to OCHSA, her talent made her "a big fish in a little pond." But once she mingled with her arts-school peers, she realized how much harder she had to work to succeed in a big world of gifted people.

An aspiring Broadway star, Block has sung in TV commercials for toys and cereal. An agent who spotted her in a campus production of "Gypsy" got her a speaking role in the TV series "Life Goes On." Opacic loves to tell people about her current job: playing Belle in Disneyland's six-times-a-day production of "Beauty and The Beast."

David Sidoni, 22, who graduated in 1988, said his time at OCHSA taught him "the biggest thing in show business: how to survive auditions." As a result, Sidoni's resume now includes dancing with Michael Jackson in his "Black and White" music video and a regular role in the new Nickelodeon comedy/variety series, "Roundhouse."

Dante Basco, 17, is now in his second year at OCHSA but has already acted alongside Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams in the feature film, "Hook." Basco played Rufio, leader of the Lost Boys. But even before he can legally vote or drink, Basco is learning an important lesson of his trade.

"I'm collecting unemployment," he says with a smile. "I'm in a lull right now. I've auditioned for two pilots, but I haven't gotten word yet."

Kamilah Martin, 18, is also drawing a state paycheck while looking for work. She recently returned from a six-month national tour in the AIDS benefit, "Heartstrings," in which she had featured roles singing and rapping. She auditioned for a sequel to the Whoopi Goldberg film, "Sister Act" and is hoping for the best.

With OCHSA graduation less than a year behind her, Martin already talks nostalgically about her time here. Without mentors like Opacic and David Green, director of the musical theater department, she said she never would have had the nerve to compete against older, more established actors in big-league auditions.

"When I'm rich and famous and sitting on the couch on 'The Arsenio Hall Show,' I'm going to mention OCHSA and Ralph and David," she said. "They taught me everything. And they taught me I could do it."

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