STAR kids all about ‘Groovy’

Who: Gavilan College Summer Theatre Arts

GILROY
– Most kids can only dream of visiting Hawaii during their
summer vacation, but for the past three years, Anton Fratzke, 11,
has left the tropical paradise to spend the summer with his
grandmother and attend Gavilan College’s Summer Theatre Arts
Repertory.
GILROY – Most kids can only dream of visiting Hawaii during their summer vacation, but for the past three years, Anton Fratzke, 11, has left the tropical paradise to spend the summer with his grandmother and attend Gavilan College’s Summer Theatre Arts Repertory.

This year, he will perform with the rest of the STAR cast in “Groovy,” a musical comedy tribute to the 1960s. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Gavilan College theater, 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd.

“I’ve been in theater before, and the average run is five to six weeks,” counselor Gustavo Manrique said. “Here we put on a huge musical in just four weeks.”

With such a tight production schedule, students and staff have worked hard to get the show ready. While the STAR kids have memorized their lines, belted out song lyrics and practiced dance steps, the staff has been busy behind the scenes putting it all together. The costume designers have chosen enough bell-bottoms, colorful headbands and flower-power tops to get any audience into the ’60s mood.

“Groovy” follows the struggles of a group of people trying to put on a concert in a conservative town.

“It celebrates the music and styles of the ’60s, and audiences will be amazed at what these children can accomplish in just four weeks,” said Marilyn Abad-Cardinalli, founder and executive producer.

STAR, which began 18 years ago, is designed to provide children with a safe and fun place to learn about performing arts, Abad-Cardinalli said.

And with 95 students and 22 staff members, there is never a dull moment. In the mornings, the students rehearse the show. Then in the afternoon, the students break into age groups called “units” where they spend time creating cheers, skits and video projects. Occasionally, all units will congregate for a big STAR event. Last week, they all participated in a scavenger hunt.

This year, José “Pepe” Espinosa and Gerrod Zanger are co-directing “Groovy,” and the kids can’t wait to show it off to family and friends.

“I love the STAR program,” 10-year-old Tucker Connell said. “My favorite part is opening night when the lights go down and everyone is stressed. It’s the unexpected problems that sometimes go wrong and sometimes go right. When it goes right, it’s just the best feeling in the world.”

Connell, who lives with his mother in Montana, spends all his vacations with his father and grandparents in Gilroy. For his past five birthdays, he has received a special gift from his grandparents – money to pay the STAR tuition.

“It’s the best present,” he said.

New this year is a Morgan Hill STAR, a three-week program that debuted Monday. Participants will perform “Give my regards to Broadway” in the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse under the direction of Julianne Palma.

“In both shows, the underlying theme is patriotism and celebrating America. Our children have been faced with the war, and we wanted to have the kids have pride in our country and in the songs and dances to celebrate that. Pepe also wanted the kids to learn something about the ’60s – the clothing and dancing,” Abad-Cardinalli said.

The program relies on its dedicated staff to put the show together and make it a success. Counselors must be high school graduates and have a love of theater and children. Senior staff are those who have been with the program for at least three years.

“For me, being a counselor is about being a good role model. The students can really communicate with us. We help them break out of their shell and express who they really are,” counselor Jessica Cooper said.

As a former STAR kid she has enjoyed seeing a different side of the program.

“It’s a lot more work, but it’s cool being able to interact with everyone. You don’t see everything when you’re a STAR kid. As staff, you see everything that goes on behind the scenes,” she said.

And the kids appreciate the counselors’ hard work.

“The leaders are the whole experience,” Connell said. “They make us work, they make us sweat, and they are one of the main reasons I come.”

Another main strength of STAR lies in the families who not only provide funding but who attend all of the performances to celebrate the hard work everyone put into the show, Abad-Cardinalli said. Students come from Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister, out-of-state and even abroad.

“It’s a good experience, my favorite part is when we sing and dance. I’ve learned you won’t be shy anymore,” said Sadaf Emad of Iran, who is spending the summer with friends in Gilroy.

Tiffany Jackson, 14, of Oklahoma, has gained more confidence through the program. When she returns home, she plans to audition for her school musical.

Although many participants return each summer, this is the first year that both sessions of STAR did not fill, Abad-Cardinalli said. She feels this is a reflection of a poor economy. There are usually more than 100 students in each session and waiting lists.

“I hired enough staff for 95 students,” she said. “If that went down, I’d have to hire less leaders.”

There are just under 50 students registered for the second session, which begins Tuesday.

Room is available for children in the second session’s production of “Groovy.” The program begins Tuesday, July 22. Cost is $435. Call 847-2514 to register.

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