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CAST OF HUNDREDS : MYART's Production of 'Oliver!' Reflects Philosophy of the More, the Merrier

January 13, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition.

Dana Hanstein is into team spirit in a big way. And sister, we do mean big.

Since founding her Musical Youth Artists Repertory Theatre (MYART) in 1989, Hanstein has preached her message of cooperation over competition to more than 1,000 children and young adults in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Her philosophy: Every MYART participant, no matter what their age or abilities, has something to contribute and deserves a spot in the limelight.

Not surprisingly, when selecting the three plays her group presents each season, Hanstein leans toward Broadway musicals or revues with large, make that large , casts. A typical MYART show will include anywhere from 100 to 250 actors, ranging from kindergartners to college-age students. From Jan. 14 through 23, MYART presents "Oliver!" at Millikan High School auditorium in Long Beach.

One way Hanstein gets all her students into a production is through the common practice of double casting, having children share principal roles during a production. This also lessens the physical and emotional demands of working in back-to-back performances. Plus, because each additional young face on stage brings with it at least one or two proud, ticket-buying relations, it doesn't hurt at the box office, either.

But when you're directing enough actors to populate a small neighborhood, double casting just isn't enough.

In "Oliver!" for example, Hanstein has selected five youngsters to alternate in the title role and an equal number to play the Artful Dodger. As for the workhouse kids . . . well, let's just say Mr. Bumble should be buying their gruel on the bulk foods aisle at Price Club. At last count, there were more than 100, and the whole lot of them perform together in the show's finale.

What the youngsters lack in square footage on stage, they make up for with a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that Hanstein says is unique to their group.

"As far as I'm concerned, you can have just as much of a success on stage in an ensemble as in a lead part," she explained during a break at "Oliver!" rehearsals in Long Beach. "I'm sure there are kids who feel they're just a part of a crowd, but I always let them know that I'm watching them as individuals. If they work at it, they can shine no matter what part they play."

Rounding out the MYART players in "Oliver!" are about a dozen adult actors experienced in community or college theater. The adults not only add a level of professionalism to the show, said Hanstein, they also serve as role models for the children.

"If they're not good with kids, they better not do my show," she said, laughing.

The constantly changing cast list is no problem for her students because they are well schooled in working together as an ensemble. Each MYART show is prefaced by three to five months of weekly classes in acting, singing, dancing and backstage work taught by six instructors, including Hanstein.

Students pay about $150 for each session, plus the cost of their costumes for the show. Parents, typically 30 to 50 for each show, volunteer behind the scenes and also serve on planning committees.

Though the majority of her students in the Southern California program are from Orange County, Hanstein has rehearsed and performed primarily in Long Beach because she has been unable to find an affordable space here. Last week, however, she struck a deal with the Westminster School District to use Helen Stacey Intermediate School in Huntington Beach until March to prepare for their next production, "Sound of Music," which will be performed either at Millikan or Cal State Long Beach.

What: MYART's "Oliver!"

When: Runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Jan. 14 through 23.

Where: Millikan High School Auditorium, 2800 Snowden Ave., Long Beach.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit Palo Verde Avenue and head north to Barbanell Street and turn left. Follow Barbanell to the front of the campus.

Wherewithal: Reserved seating is $8 to $12 for the regular run; $10 to $20 for the "Gala Night" fund-raiser Jan. 14, price includes a pre-show dinner buffet and reception.

Where to call: (800) 400-2985.

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