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Summer Splash | Family : Arts Zone

A Boon for Youth Theater

An all-day festival at USC has ambitious plans for showcasing cultural diversity.


A taste of vaudeville, a dollop of dance, a dash of mime and mariachi, heaping helpings of comedy, classics and folklore, a workshop treat from a Tony Award-nominated set designer, a swordplay sampler--if you're hungry for a family theater experience this summer, you can fill up early at the first International Performing Arts Festival for Youth at USC this Saturday.

Two years in the planning and one of the most ambitious events of its kind to be presented in the Los Angeles area, this all-day festival at USC is a rare opportunity for families to sample professional theater for young audiences, spiced with L.A.'s rich cultural diversity. Performances will be taking place between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on two indoor stages and two more outdoors.

Inside the Bing Theater, for instance, offbeat husband-and-wife dance theater duo Blue Palm will make a wacky exploration of "The Five Senses." Tim Busfield, the red-haired "thirtysomething" star and a youth theater veteran, is bringing his respected Fantasy Theatre down from Sacramento for a presentation of "Fantasy Festival 13," short comedies written by winners in a young playwrights' competition.

Master of ceremonies and new vaudevillian Gideon Potter performs throughout the day. Paul Morse Productions' play "Two Friends: Dos Amigos" finds common ground between two diverse basketball-loving kids, and Louise Reichlin and Dancers will put on a dance adventure and invite the audience to get involved.

Outdoors, the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Will and Co. is set to present its abbreviated rendition of Homer's "The Odyssey." The Chameleons, a husband-and-wife mime duo, will be found in the Annenberg Theatre. So will Jude Narita, known for her award-winning portrayals of multiple characters; she's making one of her first forays into theater for young audiences with "Portraits of Asian and Asian-American Women."

Other events include the noted East West Players in a classic Japanese comedy, presented in the ancient Kyogen style, and the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' new school show, "Choices," containing an anti-violence message. We Tell Stories will serve up audience-participatory Greek tales, and the Los Angeles Children's Museum's Readers Theatre Project acts out a bill of stories from West Africa.

Audience participation is going to be big: Educators from Performing Tree, which provides artists and arts residencies to schools, and top theater professionals are presenting behind-the-scenes workshops and demonstrations in fencing, circus arts, costume design, dance, mask making, sound effects, puppet making, set design, storytelling and more.

Continuing the international theme, the California African-American Museum, the Croatian Cultural Center and the Museum of Latin American Art will offer craft workshops and demonstrations of cultural traditions.

Meanwhile, a special outdoor stage organized by the Actors' Gang's Brian Brophy will feature young people, mostly from area high schools, in performances throughout the day.

Many of the participating artists were also part of a recent pre-festival matinee series at the 24th Street Theatre near USC; that series and a September symposium exploring the whys and wherefores of youth theater, hosted by USC, led to Saturday's event. (The festival is also being presented Friday, for school groups only.)

Festival presenters include USC's Office of Summer and Special Programs and its School of Theatre, Performing Tree, 24th Street Theatre and Los Angeles Children's Museum. It all began, however, with the festival's executive director, Tami Tirgrath, whose desire to expose her young daughter to quality youth theater led to a remarkable uniting of educators, theater professionals and community leaders.

"It's a coalition; it's not just my vision," Tirgrath said. "The reason this is happening is because there are so many organizations that have really pulled together.

"As it grows, we'll do a lot more. We're doing an international theme this year; the next step is to [involve] theater companies from other countries, and we hope to bring the city in big and expand to Exposition Park.

"Everybody's amazed that this thing is coming together," she added, laughing.


The International Performing Arts Festival for Youth, USC, 3551 University Ave., Los ngeles, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., $10 per person; $30 for a family of up to six and $4 for each additional family member. $3 parking available. (213) 740-7111.

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