Arts school's summer camp ends with bow to 'Fame'

Some scenes from the stage at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts were very familiar to a child of the 1980s who remembers the original Fame.


The next generation filled the stage Friday, adeptly singing the familiar title song dressed in colorful tights, leg warmers and oversized, ripped T-shirts.

This was Fame Jr., its cast an ensemble of campers who came together only three weeks ago to produce the musical.

It was the culmination of the school’s first summer camp.

The Jessye Norman School of the Arts operates as an after-school program for youth who might be disadvantaged but have an interest in the arts. This is the first year it has been able to offer a summer camp, thanks to a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant.

“The cool thing about this is we were able to focus on the demographic we were going after – the free- and reduced-meals students that may be economically disadvantaged,” said director Michael Ray. “Kids that couldn’t normally afford to go to camp got to come here for free.

Two sessions were offered – one in June and one in July – each culminating in a production of Fame Jr.

The first three days were spent preparing campers for auditions. Roles were assigned by the end of the week, and practice began in earnest the second week.

As the cast filled the stage Friday for the signature number in the opening act, Lauren James, 13, took center stage in her first leading role.

She played Carmen Diaz, a dancer who is determined to be a star and who ultimately drops out of high school to follow a shady talent scout.

“It was a very good experience,” she said of the camp.

Lauren has taken drama classes at the Augusta Mini Theatre and at the Jessye Norman School, but this is the first time she’s done a reading before auditions. She’s glad she learned how to do something new.

Learning everything for her role in only three weeks was hard work, but James said she’d love to do it again.

“The dance wasn’t hard for me because I’ve been dancing since I was 3. But doing the acting, I don’t usually have that many solo lines or solo singing,” she said.

Despite the amount of work involved, there was plenty of time for campers to play. Each day, they took classes in Zumba or Aikido, or they went to the Family Y.

Lunch and snacks were provided by Cafe 209, one of the high points of camp, according to Lauren.

“We had some good food,” she said.

Samantha Phillips, 12, who has been attending the after-school program for three years, said she loved the camp.

“When I went home I was exhausted as could be, but it was fun,” she said.

Her mother, Michelle Phillips, said Samantha’s grades and confidence have improved dramatically since she started attending the school.

Samantha agreed.

“They can’t make me be quiet now. I don’t know how to whisper anymore.”

Ray said some of the campers participate in the after-school program, but many were new to the school. He hopes many of them will return in the fall.

“That was kind of our goal, to reach out in the community in the summer and try and not only expose them to a cool musical and a cool experience, but maybe to interest them in attending our after-school program, which is also free,” he said.