Acting Classes Give Kids Poise, Even If TV Eludes Them

There are two reasons to enroll your child in an acting class: You have visions of him outshining Bill Cosby in a Jello pudding commercial, or you want him to develop poise and self-confidence.

A number of outlets in the San Fernando Valley offer children's performance classes. Some of these are designed to promote fun and personal growth; others prepare children to tackle cold readings for commercials.

"Commercials are a lot 'look,' " says Lynda Goodfriend, director of the Young Actors Workout in North Hollywood. "There are more parts available for blond, blue-eyed, all-American kids, but also more of them trying to get parts." She cautions parents who are "trying to live out their unfulfilled dreams" to be realistic about their child's chance for success. "Shy kids will have a difficult time, even if they've got a great look."

Nonetheless, Goodfriend and other acting teachers encourage parents of shy children to consider acting classes as a way to gain self-confidence.

What follows is a sample of acting and performing classes offered in the Valley.

Enchanted Forrest: Fifteen years ago, the Enchanted Forrest was a popular center for acting classes in the Valley. It reopened this month in Woodland Hills with 60 courses in the creative and visual arts. The complex includes both classrooms and a 99-seat theater, designed with kids' sight lines in mind (a 5-year-old in the last row should be able to see over Magic Johnson in the first row).

"We're here to build self-confidence in kids," says co-owner Jay Samit. "This isn't an 'I'm going to get your kid in commercials' place. They perform on a real stage with a real curtain and they wear real theatrical costumes, not Halloween ones."

Classes include creative dramatics, mime, stage combat, musical productions, creative movement and dance, puppeteering, and clowning (taught by a teacher from the Ringling Brothers Clown College who will be spending the winter in Southern California). In the class titled "Making a Rock Video," students will pick a song, perform it, and shoot and edit the video themselves. Classes are in session now (late, pro-rated enrollments are still being accepted) and run 10 weeks. Most classes meet once a week, and fees range from $80 to $200.

The Enchanted Forrest also features a toy store that sells production kits so kids can put on plays at home. The kits contain scripts and props and cost $10 to $30.

(The Enchanted Forrest is at 20929 Ventura Blvd., in Woodland Hills. For more information call 818-716-7202.)

Learning Tree: This school for continuing education is expanding its creative expression program for children, and classes that begin this month run for eight weeks. Most classes have six to eight students (the maximum is 15).

The theater class is for children ages 6 to 13 and starts Thursday, March 17 at 4 p.m. It focuses on self-expression using improvisation and acting techniques. The price is $48.

Aspiring professionals can sign up for the "On Camera Commercial Workshop" in which children, ages 6-13, practice cold readings. The class is designed to prepare the students for auditions and includes videotaped readings. It starts Saturday, Jan. 23, at 10 a.m. and costs $48.

The Stage Performance Workshop, which started Jan. 15 and is open to children ages 6 through 13, is an addition to the curriculum. The class begins Friday, March 18, at 4 p.m. and costs $55.

(The Learning Tree is at 20920 Knapp St., in Chatsworth. For more information call 818-882-5599).

Le Petit Repertory Theater: For the last 19 years, Le Petit has offered a semester-long drama workshop that meets once a week for two hours. Students (ages 4 through 16) learn to perform in original musicals, most of which are based on fairy tales; this semester the class will do "Alice in Wonderland."

No theatrical or singing experience is necessary. "We teach them stage presence," says owner Virginia Taylor Sanucci. "It gives them self-assurance that carries over into the rest of their lives. For professional kids, this is a chance to do live theater and have live audience reactions." The cast performs in a 160-seat theater and puts on six public performances at the end of the semester. A new class will start Friday, Feb. 5, at 4 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 6, at 10:30 a.m. The cost is $385 a semester.

Le Petit now offers drama workshops for younger children, ages 3 to 5. The class begins Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m., and the price is $385.

(Le Petit is at the Sanucci-Taylor Piano Game (a music and drama school), 19562 Ventura Blvd., in Tarzana. For more information call 818-344-7715.)

Paradise Dance and Aerobics Studio: In twice-weekly workshops, children rehearse musicals such as "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and "Bye Bye Birdie." Children with all levels of experience are accepted. In the eight-week course, students study individual scenes and learn improvisation, voice, dance, makeup and costuming. The course ends with a weekend of public performances. The class that will put on "Bye Bye Birdie" meets Tuesdays and Fridays at 4 p.m. and is for ages 11 to 14; enrollment is still open. Another class, which will stage "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," will meet Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. starting Jan. 27. The cost is $200.

(The studio is at 16571 Ventura Blvd., in Encino. For more information call 818-986-1624.)

Performance Arts Institute: "I don't train professional kids," says owner Linda Crayton. "I get the community here. I get kids who see a show and say, 'Gee, I can do that.' It's more for fun, but it also teaches them poise and self-confidence."

During the school year, the institute offers acting classes for children (ages 6 to 10) and teen-agers. Students learn pantomime, improvisation and theater games, and study scripts and perform in a recital at the end of the school year. Classes, which last eight to 10 weeks and meet once a week, are offered at beginning through advanced levels; prices range from $70 to $120. The classes meet after school, in the early evening and Saturdays.

During the summer, Crayton holds an intensive, six-week summer musical workshop for children ages 10 to 18. The students meet four days a week for four hours to prepare a fully staged version of "The King and I," "Westside Story" or "Little Shop of Horrors."

"The variety of experience and the age range in the class works really well," says Crayton. "The younger kids learn so much from the older ones." The cost is $225.

(The Performance Arts Institute is at 22019 Sherman Way in Canoga Park. For more information call 818-346-1578.)

Young Actors Workout: Although this is primarily an acting school for professional children (or those on their way), owner Lynda Goodfriend said, "The tools of acting are very helpful in everyday life. They help children to express ideas and get up in front of people."

Most of the work done by her students is in commercials. "The most work available is for ages 8 to 12. To have a career, you must have some training," said Goodfriend. She describes the kids who are successful as "outgoing. They have a sparkle, an energetic personality, a glint in their eyes. And a lack of fear."

Workshops are offered according to age (6-10, 11-13, 14-17) and meet once a week for 1 1/2 hours. Students learn acting fundamentals, improvisation, cold reading, comedy, camera technique, auditioning. The cost is $125 for six weeks. A showcase is held every 12 weeks for parents and industry professionals.

A new Tiny Tots program, for ages 3 to 5, works on similar areas. The fee is $45 for four weeks. The class meets Wednesdays at 3 p.m. (enrollment is still open) and Saturdays at 9 a.m., starting Jan. 23. Other classes include a musical theater workshop, voice-over workshop, a technique class and cold-reading workshop. And, just for parents, Goodfriend offers a Business of Show Business seminar once a month.

(Young Actors Workout is at 4735 Lankershim Blvd., in North Hollywood. For more information call 818-609-8001.)

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