"Most of the time in school, we do what we're told. Here, we have to do more than what we're told," said Amand Subramanian, 17, referring to the regimen at SRO, Fullerton College's summer musical theater conservatory for high school students.
The five-week conservatory, which provides training in movement, singing and acting as well as technical skills, will conclude this week with a staging of "The Wiz." The musical version of "The Wizard of Oz" plays at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, with matinees at 2 Saturday and Sunday at the Campus Theater.
The cast of about 50 students, ages 14 to 18, has been in training for four hours on weekdays with the conservatory staff, all instructors in Fullerton College's theater department.
"Hopefully, we're not just training stars," said program director Gary Krinke. "We give the students a taste of the professional world, and the staff demands the very most from every student at every moment. They are required to take part in all aspects of theater production. The aim is to produce well-rounded performers with a wide range of skills."
According to Krinke, SRO was created in 1980 to "fill the gap left when Proposition 13 hit and destroyed a lot of the drama and music departments in local high schools." In its first three years, the program, which costs $125 a student but offers backstage jobs or "work scholarships" in lieu of tuition, produced such familiar high school fare as "Bye Bye Birdie" but has since undertaken more challenging musicals such as "Pippin" and "Barnum." Krinke refers to the conservatory as "a sort of theater honors program" and hopes to continue drawing "the cream of the area's theater students."
"I like it because you get to do everything," said Jorri Northrup, 17, of Placentia, who is back for her third summer in SRO. "As a performer, it feels good to do sewing and painting along with the rehearsing. It's giving it everything you've got. No time is wasted. I'm always completely satisfied at the end of the day."
Rachel Jackson, 18, a four-year SRO veteran from Fullerton, said: "The expectations are high. If you're not going to give 100%, you might as well leave. This (the conservatory) is more like the real world--not everything is fair. You're not just up there for yourself. Cast unity is important, but you have to be confident with yourself before you can expect anyone else to be."
Subramanian, an Anaheim resident who plays the Cowardly Lion in "The Wiz," plans to attend UCLA in the fall as a biology major, but he feels the SRO program has given him an opportunity to "learn how to present myself."
"I'm kind of like my character--sometimes I feel confident, but a lot of the time I don't. But I'm so impressed with the people I'm working with. They have a lot of respect and consideration for each other, especially for high school kids. This is a mature group. It gives me confidence when I need it."
Krinke admits that there is a lot of "role-playing" to simulate a professional environment. The business side of theater production, including ticket sales and promotion, is stressed just as strongly as the creative end. "They have to be proud of their product--proud enough to get out and get people to come see it," said Krinke.
Krinke said students also are encouraged to go out and see as much theater as possible. "It's hard to teach something like audience involvement--how to share your performance with the audience. But they can learn by seeing it as an audience member. They come back and say, 'Oh, so that's what you've been talking about. I can do that.' " Krinke and his staff hope the program will imbue students with a team spirit. "It's not a solo effort, ever," Krinke said. "That doesn't only go for the theater world, but for life in general."
Krinke said that many of the conservatory students are considering careers outside the theater. For those who don't go into the business, the program helps cultivate an appreciation of the theater. "We're doing more than training artists, we're training audiences as well," he said.