Mapping their lives through art

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Key points Perry-Mansfield Performing Art School and Camp: Youth Festival 7:30 p.m. today Julie Harris Theatre at Perry-Mansfield $12 for adults; $10 for children 10 and younger 879-7125

In the beginning, Jeffry Lusiak and 19 teenage actors had nothing but blank paper and a performance date on the horizon.

But during the next four weeks, they needed to write an entire play, memorize lines, block scenes and take the stage.

The actors are between ages 11 and 13, an age Lusiak knows is on the precipice of complete emotional chaos.

His goal was to make sure the young actors learned how to express themselves honestly to prepare themselves for their adolescence, as people and as actors.

They began by telling stories about themselves and turned it into a full-length theatrical work.

The final piece is titled "Center of the Universe (what it means to be us)."

"I stressed the idea that we are all storytellers," Lusiak said. "That's what it means to be an actor. And in order to be a good actor, you need to know that place in yourself where your emotions come from."

"Center of the Universe" was written entirely by the students and divided into six themed sections -- "maps of their lives," Lusiak said.

The play is a movement-based piece of theater, more performance art than a traditional story with a plot. The story begins as one actor steps forward and says, "I am from ..."

Lusiak's play is part of Youth Festival I, during which Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp students perform a production they put together from beginning to end -- dance, a musical and theater piece.

The evening begins with dance.

Choreographer Nicholas Villeneuve put a piece titled "Lonely Sunday" on an 11-year-old dancer from San Angelo, Texas, named Helen Clare Kinney. Villeneuve noticed her during placement auditions in early June.

"She was so superior for her age," he said. "She's the best 11-year-old dancer I've seen. She dances like she was 35. On top of that, she has an incredible memory."

Villeneuve gave her a four-minute solo to memorize, which she did in three hours. On top of that, she danced in a modern dance piece titled "What a Day," choreographed by Ashley Williams.

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