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Dedicated teacher helps keep young actors on stages

CARLSBAD — The show must go on at Carrillo Elementary School.
Although budget cuts have slashed art programming in public schools, an afterschool enrichment activity for Carrillo students, Starz2Be, continues to help children fulfill their acting dreams.
The program has become wildly successful thanks to the efforts of dedicated teacher Leah Fisher. For the past nine years, she’s held auditions and encouraged students to break out of their shells with a part in the school plays.
“There are kids waiting in line to turn the permission slip in,” said Amanda Kienast, a parent volunteer with this year’s production of “Seussical the Musical Showcase.”
The response has been so overwhelming that Fisher has had to split the grades up between two different plays. This year’s fourth- and fifth-graders will be performing a revised version of “Seussical the Musical,” which Fisher has altered to incorporate more parts for the large amount of student performers. The third-grade class will be performing a Starz2Be classic, “Charlie Brown.”
“She really tries to make each child feel like they have a special part,” said Kienast.
The after-school and weekend rehearsals are demanding, but that hasn’t stopped students from counting down to audition day. Students have to commit to at least seven hours of rehearsal per week for nearly three months before they’re ready for opening night.
“I had to miss some soccer, but this always comes first on my list,” said fifth-grader Oliver McClymonds, who has performed in several Starz2Be productions. “I feel like it’s an honor that Ms. Fisher trusted me.”
Fisher pairs with Community Youth Theater choreographer Danielle Levas to create a show far beyond the average elementary school level performance. “She’s my secret weapon,” Fisher said. As the students practice the routines, Fisher reminds them that “the video camera will capture you looking bored forever,” to keep them at the top of their game.
“This is when (Julia) shines,” said Dawn Koss, whose daughter Julia is one of the leads in the play. “Leah’s incredible — she brings it out in them all the time.”
Parent volunteers and Starz2Be alumni help the students by assembling costumes and sets, as well as providing encouragement during rehearsals. Several past Starz2Be performers, even the shy and quiet ones, have gone on to perform in community theater programs, Fisher said.
“It’s a continuation of their growth — they learn how to become leaders (with Starz2Be),” she said. “I’m proud of them.”
The enrichment activity is funded through participation fees and donations from previous plays. Aside from purchasing costumes and props, the money has also been used to buy new microphones and sponsor children who can’t afford the fee, Kienast said.
Catch “Seussical the Musical Showcase” this weekend at Carrillo Elementary School, 2875 Poinsettia Lane. Shows will be held in the school’s auditorium on Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 30 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. Donations of $3 per person are encouraged and will be accepted at the door.

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