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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS : Three Out of Three in Spotlight Awards : Teen-agers are honored in a competition aiming to encourage careers in the performance arts.


Three out of three ain't bad.

All three San Fernando Valley area finalists won $5,000 each last week in the Music Center's Spotlight Awards competition at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The high school students competed against one challenger each in their respective categories in a contest that aims to encourage professional careers in the performance arts.

The winners are Natalie Willes of West Hills, in jazz dance; Doron Orenstein, an Agoura High School senior, in jazz instrumental music, and Farah Alvin, a Chatsworth High School junior, in pop vocals.

"I didn't care about the money," said Orenstein, 19, who plays tenor sax. "The point was to play at the Chandler. It was a tremendous opportunity."

Orenstein, who hasn't decided whether to use his winnings for a new saxophone or a European vacation, performed two pieces, "Tenor Madness" by Sonny Rollins and "There Will Never Be Another You" by Harry Warren.

Alvin, 16, sang "Johnny One Note" from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical "Babes in Arms." She said her earnings will help pay for tuition to a performing arts conservatory after she graduates from high school. Her first-place finish is "proof to me that my mother hasn't been lying all these years," she said. "I am talented. Someone else thinks so."

Willes, 16, who dropped out of junior high school to enter a home-study program, performed a lyrical dance accompanied by Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work." She said the final competition went even better than her semifinal performance in February.

"I practiced my routine more in my head than on the floor," said Willes, who will use the $5,000 to pay for dance education in New York this fall.

Funded by Pacific Telesis Foundation, the finals culminated a six-month process in which nearly 600 Southern California students, ages 15 to 18, competed for cash prizes totaling $45,000. Categories included jazz dance, ballet, opera, pop vocals, classical instrumental music and jazz instrumental music.

FOR EL PORTAL: As a Florida State University student in the early 1970s, Stephen Rothman became infatuated with "Stag at Bay," the play based on the antics of actor--and well-known carouser--John Barrymore.

"It is the 1930s, written by people who were there," Rothman said of the play. "It perfectly captures the dialogue and characters from that time period."

Rothman never forgot the play and, several years later, he directed a version of it at a Florida theater. But the production's expenses--three sets, 18 actors--consistently dissuaded theater owners from investing in it. Now, more than a decade later, Rothman, an experienced television and theater director, is trying again.

At 8 p.m. April 24, the play will be read at El Portal Theater in North Hollywood by a cast of well-known actors, including Ed Asner, Peter Fonda, William Windom and Walter Koenig. Fonda will portray Bart Starling, the character modeled after Barrymore.

The play was written by Barrymore's good friend, Charles MacArthur ("The Front Page"), and Nunnally Johnson. The reading is a benefit to raise funds for the renovation of the long-dark El Portal, which, starting in late summer or early fall, will be the new home of the Actors Alley Repertory Theatre. The company has been producing plays in the San Fernando Valley for 21 years.

The estimated cost of the renovation, which will create two auditoriums--one with 50 seats and the other with 199 seats--and classroom space, is $300,000. In March, Actors Alley received approval from the Los Angeles City Council for a $200,000 loan and a $50,000 matching grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Another $50,000 is coming from an unidentified source.

Rothman is ecstatic about another opportunity to direct the production.

"It just keeps coming back to me," said Rothman, who directs "Father, Son & Holy Coach" at the Santa Monica Playhouse and was artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse. "For me, it's about passion. It's like an old girlfriend that you meet again."

Tickets--at $50 apiece--are still available. For information, call (818) 508-4200.

FILM CLASS: It might not quite contain the glamour and glitter of a Hollywood premiere, but starting April 27, the San Fernando Valley will have a chance to see first-run films before their general release.

Martin Grove, a film columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, will hold a Tuesday night class under the direction of Learning Tree University in Chatsworth to show new movies and feature actors, writers or directors who worked on them. The sessions will be held at the Fallbrook Cinemas in Woodland Hills.

Last year, Grove taught a similar class at Santa Monica College, landing Jodie Foster to talk about her directorial debut, "Little Man Tate," and "Basic Instinct" director Paul Verhoeven to discuss his controversial movie.

"The filmmakers are remarkably candid," Grove said. "They appreciate the questions asked by the audience. People aren't afraid to say if they think a scene didn't work."

Grove said the audience usually consists of aspiring filmmakers and others in the lower echelon of the entertainment business. They are mostly interested in mainstream films, Grove said.

"This is not an audience that wants to see serious art films," he said. "It's an audience that wants to be able to talk to their friends about what's new, and get some insight so they can understand the business better."

Grove has not decided which films he will feature this spring, but among the possibilities are "Sliver," starring Sharon Stone, and "Dave," starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver.

The four-week class, which runs through May 18, begins at 7 p.m. with a screening, followed by discussion sessions until about 10. The cost is $69 per person or $119 per couple. For information, call (818) 882-5599.

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