“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re dead,” the teacher says. The kids in class giggle in response. With a deadly serious face, he says, “Not a joke.”
This interaction sets the tone for a behind-the-scenes year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) or FAME HIGH, the subject of a new docu-drama by Oscar nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The film follows select freshman and seniors through a year at the intense arts school training in their respective fields of music, theater and dance.
The opening scene shows Brittany, a music major, as a 6-year-old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on the harp at her home in Wisconsin. Now a senior, we follow her through the struggle to balance academics with her desire to begin her singing career immediately. Zak, a freshman music major, learns a big lesson while dealing with a sometimes overbearing and overprotective father. A freshman theater major from a theatrical family, Ruby, finally finds acceptance and sees that professional gigs aren’t always what you think they’ll be. And finally, Grace, a senior dance major, works to break out of her shy ballerina mold within a strict, traditional Korean family.
The film follows these four and their various interactions with teachers, parents, and professionals through a year of ups and downs, laughter and tears, budding romances, broken hearts, and auditions to their final performances/graduations and then resolves the lessons learned. You grow to root for them and love them for their passion, fears, strengths and naiveté. Oh, and their talent. These are some talented youngins.
Of course the shy ballerina pulled at me the most as she danced around en pointe in her Converse sneaks (who didn’t do that?) and pines over a cute boy that her parents won’t let her date (Romeo and Juliet anyone?). In ballet class, her teacher says, “I want to see your soul. I don’t care if your feet aren’t pointed. I don’t care if you can’t get your leg way up to here. I want to see you dance from inside of your heart.” While I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that in a ballet class, the challenge and struggle to break out of yourself to give more resonates with any dancer.
There are no dancing in the lunch room or on top of a taxi in the middle of the street scenes here. Just raw footage and honest confessions overlapping a plethora of performances in class and on stage. Kennedy goes for the heart and hits it with a bulls eye.
The movie is available digitally now and will be in select theaters/cities in June. For more information, visit FAME HIGH.