Theater Program Revived : After a two-year hiatus, the summer workshop at CSUN gives teen-agers a taste of the stage scene.

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Ask Jenny Cariker, 12, what she wants to be when she grows up, and she answers without hesitation. “Famous,” she says. “I want to make it to Broadway. I want to be in movies and big Broadway shows. I love being on stage in front of people.”

To help realize her dream, Jenny--whose idol is Judy Garland--has enrolled in the Teenage Drama Workshop at Cal State Northridge, which is being revived after a two-year hiatus and threatened extinction. Since 1957, the intensive summer program had trained thousands of young people in all aspects of theater, with previous students including Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger, and Michael Rupert, now starring in “Falsettos” at the UCLA James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. But in 1991, the program was canceled due to low enrollment.

“The workshop had fallen on hard times because the year-round school calendar made the program impossible and attendance dropped,” said Jeffrey Levy, CSUN theater general manager. “I felt it was a real loss--almost like a death. The workshop had done so much for so many kids for so many years.”


Last year, when it looked as though the workshop was in danger of being dark for good, Levy offered to try to resuscitate it. Then the Jan. 17 earthquake rumbled through Southern California, devastating Cal State Northridge. The school’s main 400-seat theater and costume and scene shops were shut down.

“The earthquake is obviously a complicating factor,” Levy said. “But we have access to two other (smaller) theaters and a makeshift costume shop. Classes will be held in trailers, and scenery may have to be built outside. We have no dressing rooms right now--we are figuring out what to do about that.”

Despite the difficulties, Levy is determined: The show must go on.

“Putting it off another year would probably kill it, and we can’t afford to lose this kind of excellence,” Levy said. “The workshop is magical for kids. They remember it for the rest of their lives. It changes their lives. Even if they don’t go into theater, they discover what they can do.”

Jenny’s mother, Laurie Cariker, who participated in the workshop when she was 13, agrees. “It was one of the most wonderful, memorable experiences of my life,” she said. “It just consumed me, being surrounded by theater professionals, making costumes and learning how to speak.”

It was that level of professionalism that attracted Jenny, said her mother. “Since she was 4 years old, Jenny has loved standing up in front of people and singing and dancing. She always had a natural ease on stage,” said Cariker. “She takes it very seriously. So I wanted her to be in a program that would provide growth for her.”

But Levy points out that the six-week workshop is geared to novices as well as seasoned performers. “We like to have a mix of students, including those who are just sampling, the shy kids who are sort of frightened, and those who have 10 years experience in music and dance classes,” he said.


Professional directors, designers, actors and drama and dance teachers lead the workshop, which includes lessons in acting, voice, movement, music, singing, improvisation and play writing. Guest speakers--including workshop graduates--will lead some classes.

The students will stage an original musical version of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” and other productions, depending on enrollment. Organizers would like to have 40 to 60 students, but the workshop will go on if fewer are enrolled.

To reinforce skills the students learn in class, the workshop functions like a full-fledged repertory company, producing up to three plays, complete with theatrical lighting, costumes and fully designed sets.

“I believe kids want challenges,” Levy said. “So the program will be tough and disciplined. The students are going to sweat, they are going to hustle and they will discover they can do things they thought they were not able to do.”


What: Teenage Drama Workshop for eighth- through 12th-graders.

Location: Theater department at Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, June 27 to Aug. 7. Auditions for roles in the productions begin June 11 and 12. Everyone who auditions will participate in workshops.

Price: $600.

Call: (818) 885-3086.