Out of the classroom, onto the stage

After walking 10-year-olds through the creation of a theater production, Jeffry Lusiak was hesitant to do it again. The first time around, Perry-Mansfield's Youth Festival I, had been so profound, he wasn't sure whether he could re-create the same magic.

Fortunately, he was wrong.

Youth Festival II ¤ 7:30 p.m. today ¤ Julie Harris Theatre at Perry-Mansfield Performing Art School and Camp ¤ $12 for adults; $10 for children 10 and younger ¤ 879-7125

For the past two weeks, Lusiak has worked with a group of 12- to 14-year-olds to create a first-person movement theater piece titled "I Am From ..."

The first thing that struck Lusiak during the second production was how big a mental and emotional leap adolescents make in the two years that separate 10- and 12-year olds.

"The most amazing thing about this (play) is that it is so different," Lusiak said. "It was taken over by the dynamic of the group."

The production put together by 20 students for Youth Festival II is "much heavier."

"I Am From ..." is divided into five themes -- friends, family, regret, popularity and love. Each segments begins with "I am from ..." poems.

The entire production is carried by an original musical composition by Perry-Mansfield sound engineer Adam Smith.

"They begin by looking back to understand what makes them who they are today," Lusiak said. "We were diving into the things you can't normally talk about and getting them to express that and put it out there on stage."

For many of the students involved in Youth Festival II, this will be their first time on stage, and teachers spend a large part of their class time making sure it is a positive experience.

For modern dance instructor Jennifer Golonka, her students' ability levels ranged from a girl who had never danced before to a girl who dances in New York City.

The piece she choreographed is titled "Pieces of Me," and like Lusiak's piece, it explores the emotional issues early adolescents face.

"The challenge is finding choreography that looks suitable for them but says what I want it to say," Golonka said. "I also want to make sure they grow as artists, which they all have."

There are things students learn during rehearsal and on stage that they cannot learn in a classroom. Students in the piece "You Can't Stop the Beat," a collaboration among the dance and musical theater students, had to learn how to sing and dance at the same time. It's not an easy thing to do -- singing while you are out of breath, choreographer Kim Hale said. "But they rose to the challenge."

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