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Students learn from pros: Pinnacle aims to be performing arts center
By Catherine Junia, Independent Newspapers

"Remember" - the word echoes in the play's title song.

And, when "Fame n The Musical" opens at Pinnacle High School April 21, the school's theatre director, Diedra K. Alexander, wants the audience to do just that - remember the performance the team spent weeks preparing for.

"I believe this project will launch Pinnacle's theater department to where we want to go," Ms. Alexander said. "I would like to see (Pinnacle) turn into a magnet school for the performing arts."

"I'm very excited. There's a well of talent in this school and people will see that when they watch (Fame)."

Enter the pros

Desert Foothills Theater is producing the play and Ms. Alexander said this is the first time Pinnacle Theater ever had a professional team working behind the scenes.

"Fame n The Musical" is part of Desert Foothill's 30th anniversary season.

"Desert Foothills provides the full artistic team for production," she said. "We link our students with the professionals, giving students a taste of how professional theater is run."

A majority of the cast members are Pinnacle students.

"We cast as many of the roles as the artistic team felt (Pinnacle) had good solid talent to cover," Ms. Alexander said, "then we opened auditions to the community."

DFT's managing artistic director, Todd Ortone, is directing Pinnacle Theater's take on the popular 80s musical.

"This is definitely a step up from what these students are accustomed to getting from a high school program," Mr. Ortone said. "We run the production as professionally as possible to give students an idea of the artistic demand and the discipline required at that level."

Having worked with other high schools in past theater seasons, Mr. Ortone said he is impressed with the quality of work the students have shown so far.

"We challenge them and they accept the challenge," he said. "These kids work really hard and we expect a good show."

Leading the team is Pinnacle High School senior Lauren Ramsey, who's been with Pinnacle Theater since her freshman year.

"It's cool having Desert Foothills come in," she said. "Although we're still working with other high school kids, we have more professionals now and so things flow much faster."

Also part of the artistic team are choreographer Bruce Nelson; music directors Kevin Glenn and Martha Lindsey; and set and lighting designer Mark Harris.

"This is our biggest production so far and everyone's just rising to the occasion. We expect a great show," Ms. Ramsey said. "People will definitely be blown away, they haven't seen a show like this in Pinnacle."

For Ms. Ramsey, working with DFT is a valuable experience she will take with her as she pursues musical theatre at the James Madison University in Virginia this fall.

"This has been truly a great experience," she said. "I got a taste of what the more professional world is like and I believe that will help me a lot when I go into musical theater."

Ms. Alexander said the experience of working with DFT has inspired other cast members to pursue training in the performing arts.

"This is something these kids will remember all their lives," she said.

Set in New York City's high school for the performing arts, Fame follows the lives of students committed to four years of grueling artistic and academic work. Fame also deals with issues that confront many young people today.

"The play touches on and addresses issues like drug abuse, suicide and sexual awareness," Ms. Alexander said. "The language has been toned down a little but the music and excitement (of the original play) remains the same."

With several weeks of rehearsals behind him, Mr. Ortone said he's thankful for the opportunity to work with high school students.

"Performing arts help raise kids' self-esteem, grades and even their performance in future jobs," he said. "It contributes to young people's lives in so many facets and for that alone, it's worth it."

For Ms. Alexander, she's hoping lessons learned from the DFT team will help propel Pinnacle High School's drama department into a full-fledged center for the performing arts.

"Now that the kids have experienced working with professionals, we'll try to pull back and do things ourselves next year," she said. "Soon I want to see Pinnacle, as its name suggests, become the pinnacle for the performing arts."

To reach this writer, email cjunia@newszap.com .

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