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Theater Arts Teacher, Theater Arts Academy. Room T220.
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Grand Arts Student Wins Los Angeles August Wilson Finals!

Center Theatre Group is pleased to announce that Jonah Gould, our Grand Arts Cortines High student, placed first in the competition, earning a $500 scholarship. Gould will compete in the national finals at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City on May 5. From a field of 12 local high school students, three students have been selected as the winners of the 2014 August Wilson Monologue Competition Los Angeles Regional finals. Contestants this year featured high school students from nine Southern California cities, who performed in the regional finals at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, Tuesday night, March 11, 2014. Grand Arts August Wilson Monologue finalists also included Wayne Mackins-Harris, Wendy Morow and Shan Shaikh. Jonah is shown below with other the other top winners from Burbank and Fullerton.

2014 August Wilson winners.jpg

"The performances were incredible and moving," says Center Theatre Group's Artistic Director Michael Ritchie. "We are so proud of all of the courageous students who participated this year." Every student participating in this competition performed a monologue from playwright August Wilson's 10-play "Century Cycle," an epic dramatization of the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Judges of the Los Angeles regional finals were professional actors and entertainment professionals with special interest in the works of August Wilson, Designed to help students from all backgrounds connect with a significant part of American history and to gain theatre and performance skills, the national competition was inaugurated in 2007.

Mason Park Honored by President Obama as a 2013 Presidential Scholar


Anyone who knows Mason Park knows he is no stranger to honors and awards. But this month brought something very special: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that VAPA’s own Mason Alexander Park is a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar.

Mason is one of only twenty outstanding American high school seniors from the performing arts, only 141 in total, who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community. The U.S. Presidential Scholars will be honored for their accomplishments in Washington D.C., from June 15-18. Mason will perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and will be honored at the White House with a medallion presented by President Obama.

“Presidential Scholars demonstrate the accomplishments that can be made when students challenge themselves, set the highest standards, and commit themselves to excellence,” Duncan said. “I'm honored to celebrate their creativity, hard work, and community service, and I encourage them – and all students – to continue to showcase the capacity for greatness in our nation's young people.”

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Obama, selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals. Of the three million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 3,800 candidates qualified for the 2013 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers or the National YoungArts Foundation. The 2013 Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large and 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored more than 6,000 of the nation’s top-performing students with the prestigious award given to honorees during the annual ceremony in D.C. Since 1983, each Presidential Scholar has been offered the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher.

Each distinguished teacher is honored with a personal letter from the Secretary of Education. Mason’s choice of teacher for this recognition is Mr. William Goldyn.

Heartfelt congratulations to you both. VAPA is honored to know you.



Congratulations to the cast and crew of VAPA's spring musical Guys and Dolls. Simply outstanding in every way. For those who missed the show, look for out photo montage soon on the "past productions" page. Meanwhile, here is a sample:





AT THE AUGUST WILSON MONOLOGUE COMPETITION ON BROADWAY (YES, THAT BROADWAY), VAPA’s own Pablo Lopez, representing Southern California and the Center Theatre Group, placed SECOND NATIONALLY. The sixth annual national finals were held on Monday, May 6, 2013, at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City.

Lopez, who placed first in the Southern California regional finals at the Mark Taper Forum in March, has become an avid fan of Wilson’s work. Earlier this year he said, “I want people to know… that it’s worth fighting for your voice. I’ve been around people who have not been able to share their voices. At the corner of my street … there are like 10 homeless people who nobody knows. And I’m grateful for August Wilson to show that everyone’s voice is important.”

Of the ten Southern California High School Finalists who advanced to compete at the Mark Taper Forum, VAPA is proud to claim three others as well: Tulsi McDaniels, Kiana Lyons, and Julian do la Celle.

Designed to help students from all backgrounds connect with a significant part of American history and gain theatre and performance skills, the national competition was inaugurated in 2007 by Wilson’s long-time collaborators Kenny Leon and Todd Kreidler of True Colors Theatre Company. This program includes theatres from Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Pittsburgh with one goal: to introduce high school students to August Wilson’s works, and to help students of all backgrounds explore their own creativity.  Competing students hailed from 31 schools and 29 different cities in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.



LA Weekly: A Brand New Musical Based on a Neil Simon Play Premieres at an L.A. High School


Genesy Mendez
Teen cast of Musical Fools, comprised of students from The Ramon C. Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts

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A new musical based on the work of Neil Simon has been placed in the hands of children.

This weekend, Musical Fools, a musical adaptation of Simon's 1981 Broadway comedy Fools, held its world premiere in Los Angeles. One would assume this would include a troupe of veteran actors and a flashy venue like the Ahmanson. Instead, Phil Swan and Ron West, who co-wrote Fools' music and lyrics, took a risk by casting students of the Ramon C. Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and staging the production in school's theater.

The concept of Musical Fools originated from another student production. In 2004, Swann attended a student production of Fools at Birmingham High School in California, where his wife Amanda worked as a theater educator. The play depicts a young teacher named Leon Tolchinksky who stumbles upon Kulyenchikov, a provincial Ukrainian hamlet under a 200-year-old curse that causes the townsfolk to behave idiotically. Leon has 24 hours to break to enchantment or he too will suffer the same inhibition of intelligence. While watching this comedic fable, Phil jotted down the note "This would make a great musical" on his program.


MF SCENE 2.jpg
Genesy Mendez
Teen actors in Musical Fools

Later that year, Swann and West produced their musical The People vs. Friar Laurence through the Second City and Chicago Shakespeare Theater and found themselves with the same literary representation as Neil Simon. Seizing the opportunity, they requested permission from Simon to translate Fools into a musical. Simon agreed, although that was the extent of his involvement in the current incarnation of the show. Swann and West hoped a successful staging may secure playwright's participation in future productions.

As for the staging itself, Phil's wife once again proved to be influential. Amanda began teaching acting at Cortines around the time her husband and West were looking to mount their fledgling project. Seeing a unique opportunity for these students to work on a world premiere musical with professionals, she proposed producing Musical Fools at the high school. All the creators agreed, including Simon.

"It was a win-win-win situation," explained West. "It is an ideal script for teenagers; Phil and I got to stage the whole in very quick order; and Mr. Simon can see our progress and how he wants to move ahead."

While the cast members may be teenagers, they are hardly neophytes. Mason Park, the 17-year-old senior portraying Musical Fools' protagonist Leon, has already earned a litany of theater achievements, including the first ever Jerry Herman Best Actor Award, a high school musical theater honor bestowed by the Pantages Theater, for his turn as Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly!. In June, he became the first Cortines student to perform on Broadway, singing at the Minskoff Theater as part of PBS's televised documentary Broadway or Bust.


Genesy Mendez
Mason Park (clad in the dunce cap) with his Musical Fools cast mates

For Park, the cast's adolescence provides an advantage.

"The show works so well with a youthful cast," he says. "The energy, pace, and heart that each performer brought to each character was wonderful to experience every night. I think the enthusiasm of the group helped make the show what it is. All of us are still learning and growing, and that exactly what the show is about. There was a certain innocence that allowed the audience to connect and fall in love with the stupid villagers in Kulyenchikov."


MF SCENE 1.jpg
Genesy Mendez

Park's performance benefitted from more than just realistic naivete and exuberance. The teen thespian already exhibits an emotional vulnerability that adds dimension to simple, comedic scenes, as was evident in the final performance on Saturday night.

"There is a scene where my character, Leon, is trying to convince the antagonist to adopt him," Park says, "and they share a very touching moment where Gregor reveals that he always wanted a son, and Leon says 'I've never really had a father.' That night, I just began to cry during that scene, not just because it was closing night, but because it meant so much to me as Leon to finally get that fatherly figure that he never had, and what was initially written as a cute scene transformed into something beautiful that added an entire new element to the show. It was a very touching and magical performance, and I will never forget it."


Genesy Mendez
Cast of Musical Fools flanked by Ron West (on the left) and the Swanns, Phil and Amanda (on the right).

Park is also looking towards the future beyond Cortines. After graduation, he plans on moving to the East Coast to study musical theater. While acknowledging the risks and hardships pursuing a performing arts career entails, Park views the career as a selfless one. "As an artist, it's my job to perform for other people's benefit, not mine," he says. "Even if I'm not successful, or perform in some small cabaret theater all of my life, I think I would be incredibly happy, because I do it for love. Because of this outlook, I haven't really preplanned my future, I just believe that I will be doing what I love for the rest of my life."

Debbi Allen Attends Dreamgirls' Performance

Ms. Debbie Allen, a regular supporter of the school, visits with Ms. Swann and Mr. Martinez at the Saturday night performance of Dreamgirls.

Debbi Allen.jpg



Obba Babatundé, the original C.C. on Broadway and currently starring in Follies at the Ahmanson Theatre, with our Theatre Academy student Terrance Thomas now appearing as C.C. in VAPA's Dreamgirls with the Director, Bill Goldyn. 


The Theatre Arts Academy students, under the supervision of Amanda Swann and Bill Goldyn, have won a prestigious award this past week end. They achieved the highest combined scores amongst 70 other Southland public and private schools competing, to bring home the Sweepstakes Trophy for Best Overall School at the Fullerton College Theatre Festival. Noteworthy amongst all the talented performers competing were:

Achieving the Finals Round:

Dominique Johnson (contemporary humorous monologue - "Audition")

 Minnie Schedeen (contemporary dramatic monologue - "Crimes of the Heart")

 Jessica Peters, Kate Walters, and Eushela Quirino (classical humorous scene - "An Ideal Husband")

 Winning a 3rd Place Trophy:

Kate Walters, Troy Basoren, Christian Larrazabal, Sarah Arnold, and Jason Esquivel (Improv Comedy troupe "Falcon Jett")

 Winning a 2nd Place Trophy:

Minnie Schedeen, Frannie Whelan, Ramon Garcia and Mason Park (classical humorous scene - "Heartbreak House")

 Winning 1st Place Trophies!:

Genesy Mendez (for her graphic artistry presentation for "The Shadow Box")

Mason Park, Ramon Garcia, Eushela Quirino, Erick Marquez, John Logie, and Ben Newman (for musical: "The Book of Mormon") 

Congratulations to all on a on a job well done! 

Lee Roy Reams, Kaye Ballard and Liliane Montevecchi speak to the Theatre Arts Academy Students

Kaye Ballard, Liliane Montevecchi, Lee Roy Reams..jpg

On Tuesday, March 6, the cast of Doin' It For Love spent an afternoon with a group of Theatre Arts Academy students. In the Q&A, students asked the Broadway legends about their careers on the stage. The warm reception by our students created a wonderful conversation that was engaging to students interested in pursuing a career in the art.

LA WEEKLY - February 9, 2012


Cannibal! The Musical in a High School? Get the Splash Zone Ready


The first two rows of the black-box theater at Ramón C. Cortines High School's Theatre Arts Academy have been designated a "splash zone," so before the play can begin, the audience members seated there are given giant trash bags with a warning to cover up. They put them on, laughing and curious. It's as if the audience for this high school musical is about to go through a tornado drill.

Not long into the first act, though, it becomes clear: Holy shit, they are not messing around. Onstage, a small team of travelers is lost when a maniac comes bursting out of nowhere, tearing off one man's arm and beating another guy with it, before biting big chunks out of their necks. Blood streams everywhere, in upward geysers and undulating sprays, against the black floor and all over the front rows of the sold-out crowd of 180 gape-jawed observers.

Toto, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. Hell, these students make Sweeney Todd look as wholesome as The Sound of Music. In Cannibal! The Musical, Cortines students sing and dance their way through a seemingly endless parade of dismembered limbs, slit throats, impalements and even bear traps -- along with seven gallons of fake blood.

Based on the life and times of Alferd Packer, the only man in U.S. history ever convicted of cannibalism, Cannibal! The Musical was South Park co-creator Trey Parker's student film project at the University of Colorado. Given a theatrical release by trash-film connoisseurs Troma in 1996 after South Park exploded, it has become a cult classic and been adapted as a musical by community theater groups nationwide.

The film's co-producer, Jason McHugh, attended the Cortines production's opening night. As licensor for the rights, he attends every show he can, "within striking distance." To the best of his knowledge, this is the first time it's graced a high school stage.

"The only other students I know of were at a Phoenix high school, and they were kicked off campus by an assistant principal," he says. "The school here in L.A. is much different and much more supportive of the arts, and it was nice to see everyone working together without drama or controversy. And of course," McHugh adds, in a burst of excitement, "the splash zone was fantastic."

Cortines, which opened three years ago, is the only high school in the L.A. Unified School District dedicated to the arts. While the school stages faculty-produced plays in a much larger campus theater, Cannibal! was selected as this year's student-run production. The students handled everything from casting and directing to lighting and choreography -- and, of course, mixing up huge amounts of fake blood.

Previous student productions were Peter Pan and Hello, Dolly, says Assistant Principal Ken Martinez -- "so this is a marked departure." Still, after student director Ethan Roy sold the faculty on the play, he got enthusiastic buy-in.

"I even brought in a foot pump from an air mattress to help with the gushing," Martinez reports. "My favorite part is when the guy gets his leg caught in a bear trap and the blood gushes from the back of the stage and arcs all the way over to the splash zone. It's a wonderful moment in theater."

Of the splash zone, he says, "It's my secret dream to take off my tie and sit there myself, but I don't want to take a seat away from the kids."

Student productions normally play for just one weekend. But this one proved so popular that a second weekend was added, and then a third (scheduled to kick off Friday; for ticket information, go to While the show isn't exactly ready for Broadway ­-- the young actors often are more enthusiastic than experienced -- the sense of fun is infectious.

Incredibly, five lead roles had to be recast just two weeks before opening night. Blame "creative differences."

"I thought adapting the movie script, with its big musical numbers and tons of outdoor scenery, to the stage would be the most difficult part," Roy, the student director, says. "But making sure everyone learns their lines and blocking on such short notice was even more challenging."

Student Ben Newman portrays the musical murderer Alferd Packer in the play. He's experiencing on-campus celebrity: Students quote from the play, ask him to take off his shirt (which he does, twice, in the production) and even ask for autographs. He loves the audience interaction: "You can break the fourth wall, spray them with guts, give them a lap dance. They've all loved it, especially with the ponchos."

The show's MVP, though, may well be student James Abroms, who plays only minor roles onstage, but also created the blood effects.

"The big blood gush from the bear trap is done by three syringes being shot at once by people behind the stage," Abroms explains. "We used a douche attached to a tube, and glued to a pipe and attached to an actor's arm, for the arm-bleeding moments like dismemberments, and an air-pressure device that shoots blood out of a tube on an actor who gets shot in the head while singing about building a snowman.

"But, really, it's just water and red food coloring," Abroms concludes. "It all comes down to this: I know that if you put too much water in too small a plastic container, it's going to explode."

Parents Help DTASC Fundraiser by Donating Food Items To Sell

Frannie Whelan, President of Thespians, on final day of food item donations.

Frannie Whelan, President of Thespians, on final day of food item donation drive.