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Seeking ‘Fame’

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But spend a few minutes with Bonal - a 17-year-old Woodhaven resident and a junior at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Long Island City - and you will sense the same starry-eyed resolve and panache that propelled the "Fame" kids to fame.

"I would really love to do this play one day," said Bonal, sitting in the orchestra section of the Little Shubert Theatre, before an evening performance of "Fame on 42nd Street," the musical version of the movie, that has been playing Off-Broadway since last November. "It kind of reminds me of the way that things are at the high school I go to."

Bonal is one of only a handful of teenagers chosen to participate in the "Father Fame Apprenticeship Program," a mentoring program for New York City public school students.

Since January, an average of four students per month have been chosen from across the city to participate in the four-week program, working with theater professionals from the musical. The students are selected for their interest in the performing arts and on the basis of a competitive essay.

They spend at least 15 hours each week in the theater, side-by-side with actors, the director and producer, technical, casting and design experts, as well as those involved with publicity, marketing and management of the production.

"I truly believe students will discover their passion, and hone their craft through hands-on work with top experts in the business," said David De Silva, known as "Father Fame," who conceived of and produced the original film "Fame." His foundation co-sponsors the internship program with other producers from the musical and the city's Department of Education, which pays participants a stipend for the four weeks.

The program is administered by Camp Broadway, a theater arts program that works with teachers, students and parents.

Bonal credits her mother Maureen, in large part, for igniting her interest in musical theater.

"My mother got tickets for the musical 'Fosse' on a day that I was planning to go on a sleigh ride with my friends and I was not happy," the teen recalled, admitting that although she gave her mother "a hard time all the way to the theater," the experience changed her life.

"It blew me away, I wanted to get up and start to dance right in the middle of the performance," she said, still barely able to contain her exuberance. "I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life."

Bonal takes dance lessons privately at a studio on Jamaica Avenue and studies both jazz and ballet at her high school. She is also taking private singing lessons.

She said that her recently completed internship with "Fame" provided her a singular perspective on the career she craves.

"I never realized how much work goes into all the aspects of putting on big production - the lighting, the sets, even what it takes to sell the tickets and do the promotion," she said, her eyes widening. "I wanted to stay longer, I learned so much."

Like a lot of the students in the program, Bonal said that one of the things that impressed her most was how professionally the students were treated, "not like children, but like adults."

This approach was apparent at a training session at the theater earlier this spring, in a class attended by Bonal and four apprentices from Brooklyn.

"Fame on 42nd Street"'s director, Drew Scott Harris, and dancer/actor Nancy Hess, who plays a teacher in the musical, spoke to the students with the same candor and support they would use in counseling a fellow artist.

"There is nothing wrong with desire, it will fuel your future," Harris told the kids as if reciting a line that could have popped off the pages of a "Fame" script.

The veteran director told the students to set specific goals and write them down.

"And find the people who are doing what you want to do and get close to them," he said. "Study their world and don't be afraid to ask them how they got where they are."

Performing live means that actors should expect to bring something a little bit different to the stage each night. "Actors are not robots, especially when they are doing eight shows a week," said Hess. Harris agreed, adding "the little flaws and imperfections that happen every night are what make the performance unique. If (a perfect) performance were ever achieved by an actor, there would be no more growth."

Harris told the students to find audition songs that would "knock their socks off," and Hess said she has been using "some of the same songs to audition for the past 20 years."

Mostly, the Broadway hatchlings were advised to "sing every chance you get, sing when you are by yourself and whenever you can get an audience."

Bonal and the other students spent the final hour of the day learning dance steps with Alexis Carra, a member of the "Fame" ensemble who, at age 23, is not that much older than the high school students.

"She still knows a lot more than we do," Bonal said after the class. "I still need to get my confidence level higher. I need to learn more."

"Fame on 42nd Street" is playing at the Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St. Performances are Tues., 7 p.m.; Wed., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sun., 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Posted 7:04 pm, October 10, 2011
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