By Max Sutton-Smolin
In some ways, the teens involved in The Actors' Conservatory Theatre of San Diego's production of "Fame" are playing themselves.
"Fame" tells the story of young people trying to make it big singing, acting or dancing at a performing arts school in New York City and the ACT cast includes local actors ages 7 to 21.
The musical will run from Jan. 22-Jan. 31 at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre.
" 'Fame' follows five characters ... their career, their struggles, their family, their friends ... whether or not they have talent," said assistant stage manager Amanda Gustafson, 21. "There's a lot of singing and dancing."
Director Leigh Scarritt, who is also artistic director of the company, said she chose this play, in part, because it is a "perfect vehicle" to "showcase these wonderfully, brilliantly talented young people." Another reason, from a marketability perspective, is that a new "Fame" movie was recently released.
"We thought this was the one the kids had all talked about," said Beth Mercer, 53, producer of "Fame" and member of the ACT board of directors. Mercer said Scarritt offers her young actors "everything from life lessons to unbelievable acting and singing."
The majority of the student actors are from the San Dieguito High School District. They began rehearsals in October. Some were in the ACT cast of the musical "Rent" this past summer, and cited that as a reason for taking part in this production.
Kelli Colarusso, 14, attends La Jolla High School. She said from "Rent" she learned much about "how to get in character and form a story," and chose to do "Fame" because she wanted to learn even more.
"I primarily wanted to be in the show because this is what I love to do," Colarusso said. "(In fact) there's nothing else I'd rather do."
Scarritt said her method of directing involves focusing on the process of the individual actor instead of the product. "I don't necessarily cast what would be best for the show, but what I see is best for them, and it ultimately ends up being right," she said.
This casting technique afforded Matt Maretz, 18, of Canyon Crest Academy, the opportunity he wanted to play outside of stereotypes. The role Maretz has in "Fame" is very different from the role he had in "Rent."
"Miss Leigh gave me that opportunity and it was a huge challenge, but I think I'm doing a good job taking it on," Maretz said.
Peter Hoban, 18, of Canyon Crest Academy, has been working with Scarritt for about a year. He called the experience "the best choice theatrically" he has ever made.
Scarritt said the ACT program "is not about being better than someone else or another company, it's just about us achieving our own personal excellence. That's what we're responsible for."
In other theater companies, she said, the actors are pitted against each other and rivalry sometimes undermines their performances. "The industry is based on external assessment, making it an inherently competitive business," Scarritt said, adding that she emphasizes the personal responsibility each actor has for the well-being of his craft.