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Creative Partnerships

The San Diego REP and SCPA collaborated on the recent production of "Tommy."
Daren Scott
The San Diego REP and SCPA collaborated on the recent production of "Tommy."

San Diego REP and SCPA Form Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Creative Partnerships
The San Diego REP's production of "Tommy" just closed but it showcased a partnership with the San Diego School for the Creative and Performing Arts that might be a model for other schools wanting to keep a strong arts component in education.

The San Diego REP's production of "Tommy" just closed but it showcased a partnership with the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts that might be a model for other schools wanting to keep a strong arts component in education.

"The students at SCPA come from a diversity of cultures that reflect who San Diego really is, representing a range of ethnicities that speak about our community," Sam Woodhouse said in the press release for the production. "This is important to San Diego REP; we want to put onstage people who look like the people who live in the city we call home. The students at SCPA are also extraordinarily talented as singers, dancers, actors and musicians. Their energy, focus, and spirit are infectious and inspiring."

The partnership between the REP and SCPA began after Woodhouse was invited by Richard Trujillo (the school's artistic director) to teach at the SCPA's Summer Institute. Woodhouse was so impressed with the students that he wanted to do more so a richer partnership was created. So for The REP's production of "Hairspray," students from the SCPA performed onstage and in the orchestra. "Tommy" represents the second collaboration. The REP and SCPA hope to repeat this mutually beneficial partnership each summer.


Principal Mitzi Lizarraga says the school has formed a lot of partnerships in the community but none as deep as this one with The REP, where students essentially "eat, sleep, and breath" with The REP and get an invaluable experience working with a professional theater company.

Below is a video of "Pinball Wizard" from the stage performance of "Tommy." Students make up the chorus and the orchestra.

San Diego Repertory Theatre presents The Who's Tommy: Scene 12, "Pinball Wizard"


Sam Woodhouse is the artistic director of the San Diego REP.

Mitzi Lizarraga is the principal of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts.


Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Years of budget cutting at California schools have been devastating for membership arts programs. School music programs, art and theatre programs have been hurt as administrators spend shrinking resources on core academic subjects. And kinds wind up losing out on a well-rounded education. But a partnership between a San Diego arts magnet school and a professional theatre company may serve as a model for other schools wanting to keep a strong arts component in education. Joining me to talk about the class action, here in studio, Sam Woodhouse is artistic director of the San Diego rep. And Sam, good of you to come in.

WOODHOUSE: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And we are expecting a visit from Mitzi Lizarraga, she is president of the San Diego school of creative and performing arts. She has been unexpectedly delayed. She should be here any minute. This summer, the rep's production of Tommy included students from the San Diego school of creative and performing arts. What do the kids do in the production?

WOODHOUSE: They jumped really high, they flew through the air. They tumbled, they sang, they danced, they brought a lot of attitude, a lot of energy, and those were just the actors on stage. We also had an 18-person orchestra from the San Diego school of creative and performing arts, lined by a guitar quartet of teenagers that just blew the roof off the lyceum. That's all.

CAVANAUGH: What I understand is this is the second production, the second production that you teamed up with this school of creative and performing arts.


CAVANAUGH: What was the first one in.

WOODHOUSE: Hairspray in 2010.

CAVANAUGH: That sounds like a perfect match.

WOODHOUSE: That was. A lot of high school aimed roles in hair spray.

CAVANAUGH: How did this class action start?

WOODHOUSE: I taught a workshop at the -- in the summer institute sponsored by the school several years ago, and the artist director of the school, Richard Trujillo, I also cast in a play prior to him knowing employed at the school. And we became friends and sat down one day after I saw how amazing these kids were and said we should do something together. Sit down, have a cup of coffee and a what could possibly happen? One of those meetings.

CAVANAUGH: That's amazing. So they impressed you so much, you said we've got to put on a show together.

WOODHOUSE: Yeah, the energy just contagious and effervescent. And for someone like me, it said wake up, you better pay attention. These kids are hot.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Mitzi Lizarraga, president of the San Diego school of creative and performing arts. Welcome.

LIZARRAGA: Welcome. I'm glad to be here.

CAVANAUGH: This has got to be a dream come true for your opportunities who get to perform with the rep.

LIZARRAGA: It is definitely a dream come true. For two years in a row, I have seen these young kids, and I'm talking about students from seventh grade all the way up to twelfth great. And some of our returning alum who have apprenticed working with professional folks, actors, dancers, and working under incredible leadership, directing of Sam Woodhouse. And at the end of this summer, both summer, they're different students all together. Because now they know what it's like, what it takes to workday in, day out, until the production actually closes. It's a great way for them to apply what they've learned in class, in a professional environment, and to really look and observe and to become a part of the industry hands on.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us how your school, the school of creative and performing arts is different from other schools.

LIZARRAGA: Well, we are the premiere San Diego unified school district arts magnet school. It's 6th through 12th Grade. Most schools are not sixth through 12th Grade. At the high school level, schools must audition to get in. We are looking for the most talented schools in the district. And it's we really want them to go on to the Juliards, the NYUs, to the Carnegie-Mellins, and the UC schools. At the middle school level, the students are selected based on a lottery. And some of the middle schoolers won't continue at the high school level. But because an audition is not required, they may opt to audition or they have had enough of the arts. So our school is completely different in the sense that the arts are very much a part of the curriculum. It's arts and academics. We have seen how the arts really have supported the over all education of young people. When you give a student a score, they have to get an A on it because if they don't learn the music, it's going to be obvious. And I'm sure that Sam saw that our young people would grasp the music and really perform as if you had no idea that they were young people. You would think they were just rock musicians. Last year with hairspray, mark Shay man, he was so blown away by our young people that he came back the second day and had a Q and A with them and actually wrote them a wonderful letter.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. Now, are your kids getting the same kinds of required testing and evaluations as students in other San Diego schools?

LIZARRAGA: Oh, absolutely. And the ideal thing about going to a school like the San Diego school of creative and performing arts is that it's real world experiences. Our students are expected to excel academically, they're expected if the show close at our school, and say the show ends at about 10 or 11:00 o'clock at night, they're expected to be back to school at 7:00 AM. Just like us as adults. Their job is to be at school on time and to excel academically, and also to excel in the arts area, and of course we absolutely have to take this California standardized test every year. But in addition to that, we prepare kids through the PSATs. We do that every year for our ninth, tenth, level graders so they can excel. We have AP classes. We really expect our students whether they decide to pursue the arts at the college level or not, to be prepared to make whatever choice, an informed choice to become a science major at UCLA or decide they want to be a political science major at UC Berkeley, or go to the music theatre program at Carnegie Mellin. So we prepare them to make informed choices.

CAVANAUGH: I think it's pretty easy to see what the kids get out of that class action. Sam, what does the prep get out of this class action?

WOODHOUSE: The kids, are the teenagers -- I call them teenagers, pause that's what they are. They are very inspiring to work with. The man who played Edna burn blat last summer who's in his 60s, stood up and said I just want to tell all of you young people how much you taught me and how much I am inspired by your energy, your discipline. And how the young people actually help get you on your tows. I had no idea that would happen. But there's a sense that you're working with young people, you need to be a role model, you need to come to the table with your best game because you're part of a teaching event that's going on.

CAVANAUGH: That kind of energy would be really -- you just pick it up in the room. What was the audience and the critical response like to the show, Tommy?

WOODHOUSE: To the who's Tommy?


WOODHOUSE: Well, it was a huge hit. I think critically acclaimed and exceeded our expectations in terms of attendance. And we had a lot of screaming, cheering people in the room who would stand up at the end every night, actually sometimes before the end, filled with this sort of amazing rush of joy. And the power of 24 people and an orchestra of 19 singing and playing, listening to you.

CAVANAUGH: How are the kids compensated? Is this a nonpaid internship? Do they get class credit? How does that work?

LIZARRAGA: It's absolutely an urn paid internal 147. And I believe strongly in apprenticeships. Years ago, centuries ago, that's how you learned. You learned without getting paid, working with the marries. And I believe that we need to do more and more of that. It is so invaluable. So they're paid noncompensatory in the sense that their confidence has just sky rocketed, they have seen what they can success at. And so of course they feel great. You feel great about yourself, not just because you wake up in the morning but because you've done something. You've made a difference. And you have made a difference. And when they see every night in Tommy, for example, that the audience is just, like, with them and standing as Sam said, long before the show is over, I mean right before the intermission, folks are standing up because there are these four young guitarists who are just rocking -- it's almost as if some rock artists have taken over their bodies. I don't even know who these young people are.

WOODHOUSE: Those are my students?

LIZARRAGA: Those are my students there! You know? And they weren't even born when all this injuries.

WOODHOUSE: Rock of ages.

LIZARRAGA: It's extraordinary. And it's also amazing for their college application because the personal statement when you're applying to college is so critical. Because that's what's going to differentiate a student from another student who's got the same GPA, the same attendance, and that personal statement, they could talk about working in a professional environment, will speak volumes for their admissions.

CAVANAUGH: Let me talk to you for a minute about the wider issue of arts programs in schools. And Mitzi, for schools that do not have an emphasis in arts the way your school does, what's happened to arts education in California?

LIZARRAGA: Well, I think it's not just California. I think initially, the arts are on one happened not valued. But when you think about the arts as an entertainment piece, there is value to it. Because I think of film being part of the arts world. Of and so people and television is valuable in a different way. The arts are not valued with respect to how and what they can teach young people, and teach the world. And so what's happening is that there are generations and generations of young people and probably many parents who have very -- who are not comfortable with something that for years we've taken for granted, before television technology, that the arts should be infused in our life. And I remember as a young person, growing up in Washington DC, there was no separation of the arts and my learning. The Smithsonians were my playground. And I never felt intimidated going into the Smithsonians. Young people today, when they think about in 5th grade, getting on public transportation, you request just decide in ninth grade to go to a museum and just hang out. But it was because it was a part of our lives. There wasn't that separation. And our life is not in an isolated way. But if we live our lives that way, it will be. So then you think about, on the chopping lock, when it's time to cut things, tell be the arts or something that's not the arts. When you take the arts out of a child's education, you dwarf their education immensely.

CAVANAUGH: What do you think students are missing out on when arts and theatre programs get cut in a school?

WOODHOUSE: I was thinking about that in preparing to come and talk with you. I just want to talk about what I think the students learn by working in a professional theatre production. Il have now seen it two summers in a row. And it frankly astonishes me. I see a somewhat shy, maybe a little confused, slightly bit of a slacker kid walk in the door. And eight weeks later, they walk out, and here's what's happened: Their self-esteem has raised immensely, their understanding of the power of discipline has been grasped. They have participated in a teamwork event far beyond anything they could ever do, even at the school because there are adults and young people working together. They understood what it mean, what fusion is. They've understood what starting with a tiny little idea on a table reaching to some full blown work of art, what it means to manifest an idea or a dream. They understand spatial relationship. They understand flow. They understand how a single human being can be part of something greater than themselves and that your contribution is essential for that thing, if you will, that product, that event to exist. And it's astonishing to me to see, you know, in rehearsal, and in the process, all of these learning events manifest. It's actually made me understand what the creation of a piece of theatre, what an enormous act of team work, partnership, discipline, fusion, imagination --

LIZARRAGA: Problem solving.


LIZARRAGA: And cooperation. Those these are all qualities that employees want in employee, and I that want passion as well, and they want energy as well. And that's what the arts bring to people's lives.

WOODHOUSE: As a professional, one of the things that I realized in watching this, and when people talk about art education -- my mother was a music teacher. So she taught people for decades. But I realized, I think there's a solution that it's this fancy effervescent flowing imaginative leap that distribute have anything to do with living. That's a crock. The fact is that the skills you learn in this process transfer to all kinds of professional.

LIZARRAGA: Absolutely.

WOODHOUSE: -- and tasks. And I can tell you, she's people who have been in two productions in a row are frankly twice as confidence, twice as charismatic, twice as full of self esteem, and curious, incredibly curious about people who are not like themselves. Those values are enormous.

CAVANAUGH: We're up against the clock, Mitzi. Can you tell us in a nutshell if there's anything other schools might be able to take away from this that maybe could keep some arts programs going in their school?

LIZARRAGA: I would say that school districts around the century have got to make sure arts are funded at an adequate level. And they also have to be creative about how the arts can be introduced into their schools, and how, perhaps by having relationships with partners like the one we had with the San Diego repertory theatre, and other partners in their communities, and at the same time invite visiting artists to come into their schools for residence so they can have like a deep meaningful rich authentic experience for our young people.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank Mitzi Lizarraga, principle of the San Diego school of creative and performing art, Sam Woodhouse with the San Diego rep. Thank you both.

WOODHOUSE: Thank you.

LIZARRAGA: Thank you.