By Diane Y. Welch
Michael Schwartz, Envision Theater coordinator and department chairperson for the Visual and Performing Arts at Canyon Crest Academy, has coordinated a full line-up of shows for the current school year. Funding donated by parents to the school's foundation enhances the quality of these performances by allowing professional guest artists to instruct students on campus, said Schwartz.
Envision's theatre arts has benefited greatly from the visiting artist program which originally brought Schwartz to CCA.
"I was working at La Jolla Playhouse and was offered the chance to come here and direct a couple of plays. I enjoyed it here so much I suffered through getting a teaching credential so I could stay here full time," he quipped. Schwartz has an MFA from UC San Diego in theater direction and has worked extensively as a freelance theater director, he said.
Three CCA seniors shared first-hand accounts of their experience working with visiting professionals. "Just today I got to learn from two different visiting artists: Jessie Miller, a local water color painter, and Lisa Burger, who teaches acting theory," said Tracy McDowell, actress and arts editor of the school yearbook. "These are such incredible opportunities that allow me to explore and learn a lot more about myself and what I am able to accomplish."
Haley Carlborg enjoys the diversity of the styles of the professional actors. "Working with them gets you ready for the real acting world, you get an opportunity to dabble in everything," she said. "Lisa Berger absolutely blew my mind. She's a genius. She taught me about finding truth in your character through the Meisner Method. While I was doing my scene she asked me how it related to my own life. I got so connected to my character, who was supposed to feel shame, that I cried, the feeling was that strong." Berger will direct the show "Anon(ymous)" in January.
Izzy Pollak was inspired to change his prospective major in college from a BBA to a double major with a BA or BFA in theatre on the strength of "the broad spectrum" of his theatre arts instruction given by professionals, he said. "It helped lay the foundation for me to tread on this unbelievable experience I am about to embark on, the path of an actor."
Professional actor/director/playwright Bernard Baldan, a founding member of the San Diego Repertory Theater, with TV and film credits included in his 35-year career, shared his views on the visiting artist program.
"An academic would put an emphasis on a series of facts and experiences that these students must have to meet the curriculum. The professional adds to this by presenting hands-on workshops to help create the final product, the show," said Baldan. "My aim is to teach students a sense of what it is to be a professional. I help answer the questions: What is it like when the show opens? What are the steps you actually have to take to get there? What is your responsibility to the other actors, to the director, to the audience, to the artist who wrote it? The show is not just to have fun, but it is to inform your audience, to bring them along, to entertain them."
Baldan has also taught Shakespeare at CCA, along with acting theory. This school year he will direct a performance of "A Night at the Bijou," a vaudeville he wrote and conceived, and "The Children's Show," co-directing it with Schwartz.
Other shows in the line-up include, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Chess," a Bertolt Brecht play, and the "Senior Showcase" produced by Theatre Conservatory students.
"The fact that our students get to work with a huge number of directors and teachers puts them far above their peers in terms of their understanding of theater," said Schwartz. "The families who donate to the CCA Foundation and the parents who volunteer allow this to happen."
to find out more about upcoming shows.