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High Life: A Weekly Forum for High School Students : On Stage: Self-Esteem : High School's Drama Program Aims to Inspire More Than Acting Ability

August 26, 1993|TRISHA GINSBURG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Trisha Ginsburg, a recent graduate of Los Alamitos High School, is a regular contributor to High Life

Carol Van Treese, an admittedly shy sophomore at Trabuco Hills High School, decided to branch out this summer and meet people. She thought she'd try a session of summer theatrical training at Santa Margarita High School's Talon Theatre.

When she enrolled, Carol didn't realize that the Talon Theatre program, now in its third summer, gives participants the chance to expand more than just their acting horizons.

The goal of the program is for "the kids to feel good about themselves by the end of summer," said director Jeff Nowlin. "With the pressures that adolescents go through in society these days, it's important that they feel good about themselves. To always be down on yourself is a very negative aspect of an adolescent's lifestyle."

Nowlin's goal is accomplished through a variety of activities in addition to regular rehearsals for the show. The group presented the two-act musical "Anything Goes" in a four-night run earlier this month.

In addition to cast social gatherings such as barbecues, beach trips and pool parties, the young thespians hold inspirational self-esteem sessions in the chapel at the private Roman Catholic school.

"Chapel is a time to be open and honest with ourselves and open and honest with the people around us," said Santa Margarita senior R. J. Romero, 17, who has been involved with the Talon Theatre since his freshman year. "We do have prayers at the end of rehearsal, and we do pray a lot, but in our own words to whatever it is we believe in."

The program's goals were articulated by drama coach Jack Schlatter, who funneled them through to his protege, Mark Till, who in turn is a mentor to Nowlin. Till and his wife run a similar program out of Niguel Hills Middle School in Laguna Niguel.

Schlatter describes the program as "the teaching of self-esteem and individualism through a cooperative effort. It's a reinforcement of gentle, artistic self-discipline and an appreciation of other human beings.

"It's not religion, it's spirituality. The program gives a reason to hope for tomorrow. The public needs to know that for every juvenile delinquent, there are other kids doing positive stuff, and there are programs where kids are learning, building, understanding and loving."

Although most of the students are from Santa Margarita simply because Nowlin is the school's theater arts director, the program is open to all high school students. There are similar programs for young children and junior high students.

Van Treese found herself sitting alone at the first meeting. Then, during chapel time, she was uncomfortable talking about her life to the group. "But the inspiration is the best part of all," she said. "Everybody cares about you. And after you see how everybody else is open , you feel included, too."

Till said that "on the surface, it looks like, 'Oh, OK, it's a (theater) show.' But we're definitely aiming for more. The thing that works so well is that when the kids get done, they have a much greater sense of accomplishment, in terms of what they didn't think was possible, and now they've proven to themselves that it is."

"At each social event we do, we have a time where we get together and talk about a subject," Nowlin said. "We basically just share. We may just do an encouragement session or we may talk about . . . what we like best about ourselves and what we don't like."

"It exceeded my expectations," said Santa Margarita senior Michelle LaVoie, 17. "The closeness of the cast is what you remember more than the show. The show ends, but the friendship goes on. The students are accepting and open: We've got football players, cheerleaders and people who don't know anyone when they begin. It has helped me become more of an individual and be who I really am."

"It's much more than just learning how to act and being up there onstage," said Jenna Ricker, an alumnus of the program and director of a children's theater workshop in Rancho Santa Margarita.

"It's a big builder of self-esteem and making you accepting of yourself. But it's also being able to accept other people as who they are and working together as a team. It really helps you with real life, and not just the acting part of it."

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