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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

Short's Circuit

Stomp Performer Left School for the Stage; Now He's Back to Pick Up His Diploma Dance

June 07, 2000|ANA BEATRIZ CHOLO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It goes with the territory--the auditions, the callbacks, the pavement pounding and the inevitable butterflies in the stomach.

But when Columbus Keith Short, 17, auditioned for "Stomp" in San Francisco last February, he just hoped he wasn't jeopardizing his high school diploma. Ditching classes for a chance at stardom can be a little unnerving, especially when you are just months away from graduating.

But the gamble paid off. The Orange County High School of the Arts alum, selected from among hundreds of performers, is now one of the youngest cast members to join Stomp. And through independent study and test-taking on weekends, he will soon receive that all-important piece of paper.

Though Short knew little of the world-famous percussion company aside from the HBO special "Stomp Out Loud," he is thrilled to become one of "them." In "Stomp"--the name of both the show and the imaginative percussion group--oil bins, matchsticks, brooms and limbs serve as musical instruments. All performers must be gifted musicians and capable dancers.

The San Francisco company, which began its first season at Marines Memorial Theatre on May 2, is the first Stomp troupe outside New York to be permanently based in a city. "Stomp" is also being performed by five international touring companies, which have traveled for the past five years in Europe, Asia and North America.

"We were grooving in the street," Short said of the audition, as he fiddled with two Zippo lighters in the teachers lounge at the Orange County High School of the Arts in Los Alamitos last Friday. "It was tight."

Short was taking a break from the daily grind of rehearsals and reveling in his newfound celebrity status at his old stomping grounds. As he walked around the hallways of the school, a steady stream of friends swirled around him gushing congratulations.

The gregarious teen took it all in stride. The main reason he returned this weekend was for the prom and a few last tests.

For Short, it was a welcome reprieve after an intense year of constant activity. The grueling tryouts in March winnowed 15 finalists from 650 hopefuls. The small group was told they had been picked to be in the show but would not be called for two months or perhaps two years.

A month later, on a Friday, Short received a message at home: "Call us Monday." After an agonizing weekend he was told to pack his bags. "Rehearsals start next week."

Short, who had been living in Long Beach with his mother and two younger brothers, had to suddenly leave school, his family and girlfriend. But he has no regrets.

"Everything worked out for the good," he said. "It was time to go."

Scot Willingham,, the New York-based "Stomp" casting director, was present at the San Francisco auditions. Willingham said he got the feeling this kid was special and could one day be very, very good.

"He has such confidence with music," Willingham said from New York. "They would do a phrase, and he would immediately pick it right up. He's very physical, and he enjoyed the whole audition process."

It wasn't until after he was picked to be in the show that he actually watched his first live "Stomp" performance.

He was intimidated.

"The whole show, I was like this," Short said, opening his mouth wide in awe. "I didn't even clap. Some of the stuff, I was like, am I going to be able to do that?"

No way, he thought.

"A lot of 'Stomp' stuff is dangerous," he said. "I never expected it to be that hard. People make it look easy on stage."

In one such number, which he now performs with ease, eight cast members are suspended by cables over an enormous grid. As they swing back and forth, they play pots, pans, stop signs, fire extinguishers and washboards, among other everyday items.

Now most of his days are spent rehearsing for his first "Stomp" show this week and being massaged three times a week. He is also preparing to move into his first apartment.

The young performer, who has already been on numerous television commercials and is considering a pilot with Fox Television, feels lucky to have discovered "Stomp."

The show is a perfect match for his energetic personality and talents as a drummer, dancer, actor and martial-arts performer. He just wishes he could fit in his singing and keyboard playing as well.

Music runs in his family. Born in Kansas City, Mo., he hails from a long line of jazz musicians and performers. His mother, Janette, has a talent-management company in Long Beach, but years ago she made a living as a backup singer for jazz artists.

When Short was a baby, his family moved to California. The gospel choir of Peace Apostolic Church in Carson served as the backdrop for his musical debut as a drummer when he was 3. Though he later attended the Millikan Performing Arts Magnet School in Sherman Oaks, his first love was football and basketball.

It was a stint as the Cowardly Lion in a production of the "Wizard of Oz" in Phoenix, however, that made the 10th-grader realize he belonged on stage. After a year in Arizona, Short returned home and successfully auditioned for the musical theater department at the Orange County High School of the Arts.

During his two years there, he won lead roles in such musicals as "Guys and Dolls," "Grease," "Singing in the Rain" and "Bus Stop."

Short managed to impress the entire faculty and fellow classmates, said David Green, director of the musical theater department at OCHSA.

"He's one of those kids that you know immediately when you see them that they have that extra something beyond just talent that's going to carry them into the real business. With Keith, it was just a matter of time. It just happened so quick."

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