School was almost over at the L.A. County High School for the Arts, but the buzz in the air all week was about more than the big Baz Luhrmann–worthy graduation spectacular the kids would soon be staging at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That would be fun and all, but there were real career opportunities careening around dog-eared buildings on the Cal State L.A. campus the LACHSA uses. Word was a new reality TV show called Fame L.A. would be filming here. The Fame L.A. producers had visited the campus to look for their characters: Who, they asked students, was the class clown? The most likely to succeed? The slut, etc.?
On top of that, Disney was holding a casting call there for Higglytown Heroes, a cartoon written by LACHSA parent Holly Huckins. The show, a hit with the preschool set, was a crafty turn on kids’ fascination with superheroes, casting ordinary folks — the cafeteria lady, safety patrol and fry cook, for example — in deus ex machina roles as they whisk the main characters out of harm’s way at the end of each episode. It was a bit part — just a few lines and a song — but paid $1,000 for two hours of studio time and looked swell on a budding actor’s résumé. These were heady times for high school drama kings and queens.
The students lining up outside Room 1006 in King Hall B for the casting call were mostly from the theater, musical-theater or vocal-music departments. But a few visual-arts students lounged in the hallway to wait with friends who were auditioning, prompting a discussion of the distinct species comprising the LACHSA ecosystem of theater, dance, music and visual-arts departments.
“It’s easy to tell who’s specializing in musical theater because they’re always singing The Lion King,” explained one theater student, gesturing dismissively toward a knot of kids excitedly waiting their turn, rehearsing lines and bursting into song in big Broadway voices. She added disapprovingly, “Teachers tell you not to read out loud like that. They say you should read to yourself or other actors can steal your ideas for the part.”
“The theaters are really nerdy. And they’re really annoying because they totally dominate the classroom,” joked her friend, a visual artist. “They do all the talking because they’re so intellectual.” She then pointed to a group gathered around a boom box listening to some banging music at the other end of the hall. “And it’s easy to tell who’s a dancer because they’re always stretching in class and — I hate to typecast, but look — they even wear leg warmers.”
“The visuals,” continued the theater student, “are the real artists. Like, their whole thing is about being independent and too cool. And the musicians are always really good in math and . . .” Her voice trailed off and the girls looked at each other and laughed. The junior boys in the music department, the ones who played jazz, were the hot ones who got invited to all the parties.
Meantime, inside Room 1006, Huckins was showing signs of wear. Though the announcement had been e-mailed to parents just one day before, 40 kids had signed up, all eager and hopeful, entering the room one at a time and greeting the adults warmly, making eye contact, shaking hands, deftly exchanging pleasantries — clearly adept at cultivating an audience.
Some brought in résumés, head shots, and were already SAG members. But Huckins still hadn’t found her hero.
“I was really impressed with her vocal quality and range,” said Huckins of one student, a double major in theater and vocal music specializing in gospel and opera, “but her acting was only so-so. I mean, it’s like, ‘You’re not Jodie Foster — yet!’ Oh dear, I’m starting to blur and I’ve only seen 15 people.”
The actors were encouraged to keep it natural until the line “. . . so you too can be Higglytown Heroes!” — at which point they were urged to assume a heroic pose and take it over the top.
“Be natural and say the lines with a smile on your face and it will probably come out right,” Huckins directed ?the kids.
One hopeful student was recognizable from David LaChapelle’s hip-hop documentary Rize; another, from the Jack in the Box commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.
“Cha-ching — that must have been lucrative,” said Huckins.
“Actually, no,” said the young actor. “Hey, I’m surprised you recognized me because I cut my hair! I got tired of playing all the surfer-dude parts, so my agent told me I had to cut it.”
From surfer dude to Higglytown Hero? You never know. ? —Gloria Ohland