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It’s like an episode of ‘Fame’ in here

by Brian Clarey

Patrick Lui conducts the guitar group of the Weaver Academy for the performing Arts in Greensboro.

It´s showtime at the Weaver Academy for the Performing Arts. It’s always showtime at Weaver — dress rehearsals, in-class solos, impromptu jam sessions… just today a few students in a freshman biology class will perform a song they wrote about DNA to the tune of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” in front of the class.

But down in the theater it’s really showtime as the students prepare for a preview performance of On Our Way, the school’s contribution to Greensboro’s 17 Days arts and music festival running through town this week.

Just like at any other assembly in any other high school in the country, students file into an auditorium redolent of pencil shavings and farts while an authority figure with a microphone says things like, “Please seat yourself to the middle, we have a very full house today.”

But this is no ordinary school. Every student here auditioned for the privilege, and each seeks to attain proficiency on one of nine “principles”: guitar, piano, theater, dance, music production, music theory, voice, strings and visual art. It’s an entire school of art geeks, rockers, jazz nerds, drama kids, A/V misfits — those fringe high school cliques all gathered in one place.

“This is a place where all kids are eccentric,” says Patrick Lui, the guitar teacher. “They are allowed to be a little eccentric; they are adored for being different.

“It all starts with us,” he says, meaning the faculty, each a seasoned performer or artist in her own right. “We all were there. We have a connection with these students before we even meet them.”

There are none of the usual high school tropes here, no bullying to speak of, no freshmen hazing or pep rallies. Instead of cheerleaders, they have ballerinas. And when the students put on a show, they don’t have to barricade the doors to prevent the parents from leaving early, because it’s like watching an episode of “Fame.”

This is one of the Weaver Academy Performance Opportunity assemblies, where students get to shine in front of their classmates, and also a chance to work out the kinks in their stage show.

“This is not a rock concert,” emcee and piano teacher Mark Freundt says, “so please do not do blood-curdling screams.”

It opens with one of Lui’s prize classical guitar students, Zachary Richey, who strums a beautifully arpeggiated waltz. Then Allie Allen unleashes a crystal clear soprano. Pianist Eric Surber brings a little prelude and fugue from Bach, and then backs cellist Ally Cogan. There’s a string orchestra, dramatic monologues, modern dance, a short set from Lui’s guitar students and a heavy-metal/electronica piece that due to technical difficulties doesn’t quite get off the ground. A duet between guitarist Dexter Jordan and vocalist Kevin de Miranda a stylized version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” brings down the house.

All the talent in the room aside, this is still a high school, with all the attendant drama and angst. It’s exemplified by piano student Tri Li as he covers Adele’s “Someone Like You,” a song about love lost and unrequited.

“Don’t forget me, I begged, I remember you said,” he sings in a voice dripping with heartache, “sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”

He misses a couple notes — hey, that’s what practice is for — but the crowd goes a little crazy when he’s done and groups of high school girls rise from different sectors of the audience for a standing ovation, and then murmurs fill the room.

I am sure there is something going on here beneath the surface of which I am unaware.

Weaver Performing Arts Academy’s performance of On Our Way, part of Greensboro’s 17 Days arts and music festival, will be held Thursday at the Weaver Academy Theatre at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information go to 17daysgreensboro.org.

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