Like many high schools faced with dwindling state funds, Saddleback High School has been forced to trim its drama program in recent years.
Dave Elkins, the director of Saddleback's performing arts program, said his students have had to endure a 20% cut for 1991-92, including an elimination of most extracurricular activities.
That left about 25 of his young actors wondering how they would pay for the annual trip to the Thespian Drama Festival, a performance workshop open to students from all over California. As many as 1,400 students statewide are expected to attend the festival in Bakersfield from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
Elkins and his young actors turned to a source known more for laughs than for fund raising. The Orange County Crazies, a 2-year-old improvisational comedy team based in Huntington Beach, will perform two benefits on New Year's Eve at the tiny Way Off Broadway Playhouse in Santa Ana, with net proceeds to go to the Saddleback High program.
"It's really great, especially because it shows my students that there's support out there for the arts," Elkins said. "We would have figured out some way to go (to the festival) anyway, but this will certainly help."
Cherie Kerr, the Crazies' founder, said the amount raised will probably be about $500, which she concedes will make only a dent in the $125-per-student cost of the trip. But, like Elkins, she views the benefit more in terms of moral support and as setting a course for the Crazies and other cultural groups in Santa Ana.
"This is really a good-faith gesture, a way for us to get more involved in the Santa Ana community," Kerr said. "We wish we could raise more, but (the 75-seat Way Off Broadway Playhouse) was the only theater available. That certainly cut down on what we could get in terms of funds."
She noted that the benefit shows, titled "Orange Lang Syne," stem from the troupe's involvement with the Santa Ana Council of Arts and Culture. The board--which also includes representatives from the Way Off Broadway Playhouse, the Orange County Black Actors Theatre, Alternative Repertory Theatre and Bowers Museum, among others--was recently formed to promote the arts in Santa Ana. When the council was made aware of the financial problems facing Elkins' students, the Crazies offered to perform.
Besides fund-raisers, the council organizes workshops and other activities for Santa Ana high schools and community groups. The council may expand to other cities in the coming months, Kerr added.
"The game plan is to help anybody, especially schools and colleges, trying to develop their performing arts programs," she said. "We want to teach improv, on a volunteer basis, and anything else that's needed."
Elkins said he welcomes such involvement, especially on the performing end. He recently took some of his students to the Crazies' "Don't Cry for Me, Orangentina" show at the Westminster Cultural Arts Center (the show has since closed) and was impressed--as were his students, he said--by the group's professionalism.
"They really enjoyed it, and I think that kind of exposure is very important. I'm especially interested in having (the Crazies) visit the (Saddleback High School) campus," he said. "Many of my kids are really into performing improvisation, and to get tips and such from people who do it for a living is significant."
As for the "Orange Lang Syne" show, Kerr said it will primarily be a greatest-hits package from the Crazies' previous offerings, with two or three new bits tossed in.
Besides the rehearsed segments, the performance will, as usual, rely on much improvisation. The audience, perhaps more than in past shows, will be expected to join in, Kerr noted.
"It will be freewheeling, just the kind of wide-open show to welcome in the New Year," she said. "There will be lots of improvisation with the audience, but we won't insist on participation. Most people get terrified at the idea, and we realize that.
"What we plan to do is ask for volunteers before the shows. You know, the Orange County yuppie know-it-alls who love to show off. There are always a few, so we aren't worried."
The Orange County Crazies' "Orange Lang Syne" will be offered at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. New Year's Eve at the Way Off Broadway Playhouse, 1058 E. 1st St., Santa Ana. Tickets: $15. Information: (714) 840-1406.