CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2000
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13. Subject Headings:
The chosen forty filed into the auditorium, and took their seats quietly. Most of them had left bitterly disappointed friends outside the closed auditorium doors, and they felt almost guilty at having survived the cuts.The first 12 volumes of the "Stage School Series" are credited to Geena Dare, the nom de plume of Linda Hendry (one title), Sylvia McNicoll (six titles), and Sharon Siamon (five titles). Set somewhere in Canada, probably Toronto, two hours by plane from New York City, the series focuses on five performing arts students - Abbi Reilly, Jenna James, Matt Caruso, Lauren Graham, and Dan Reeve - all attending William S. Holly Performing Arts School. A visual art student, Nikki Kovalski, is introduced in the eighth volume of the collection. The series opens two weeks before school in September for the auditioning process to select the 40 freshman students and continues through spring break in March. Four of the novels focus on Abbi - Make or Break, Blind Ambition, Secret Stranger, On Location; two each on Dan, Jenna, and Lauren - Dan: Clowning Around, Dan: Double Dare; Jenna: Dancing Dreams, Jenna: Standing Tall; Lauren: Drastic Decisions, Lauren: Dream Dating; one each on Matt and Nikki - Matt: Heartbreak Hero; Nikki: Stolen Dreams. Each of the novels develops both the title individual and the members of the group, advancing the plot and expanding the characters.
Representing the acting segment of the freshman class are Abbi, with gold blond curls and high energy, and Dan, the class clown who aspires to be a serious actor. Both are talented, serious, dedicated to performing, and most alive when on stage. Tall, handsome Matt and elegant, disciplined Jenna are the dancers. Jenna feels Matt lacks commitment to serious dance, and Matt, although he adores Jenna, tries to re-educate her to have fun dancing. Jenna idolizes the successful black ballerina, Celine Laporte, and is determined to succeed as a ballerina in spite of her height and size. Shy, petite Lauren is a brilliant vocalist whose parents aspire to an operatic career for her; however, Lauren falls in love with musical theatre and folk music. Eccentric, "pixie-pretty" Nikki, forced to attend Holly because of a fire that destroyed her art school, Central Tech, reluctantly accepts the friendship of the group. A clever visual artist, she designs the award-winning sets for the freshman production, Dracula - a showcase for their talent. The series includes romantic elements. Dan falls for Abbi, as does Lauren for Matt; however, neither finds developing a relationship simple. Abbi considers Dan her buddy and only sees him as an acting companion. Matt admires Lauren's exquisite voice but cares deeply for Jenna who ignores anything personal, focusing only on their dance relationship. Although Lauren believes, for a short time, that Matt regards her as more than just a voice, she is ultimately disappointed. Dan engages Nikki in a brief relationship but maintains his passion for Abbi. Both Abbi and Jenna re-evaluate their views of Dan and Matt during the spring break trip to New York with which the present volumes in the series conclude.
The young people certainly seem to have more than their fair share of dysfunctional families. Matt, Lauren, and Nikki enjoy homes with the traditional mother-father format. However, even Matt, whose family seems quite caring and normal, endures his father's "real men don't dance" attitude. Lauren's musically talented parents react with outrage at her abandonment of classical music. Her father remains grimly disapproving; her mother lapses into suicidal depression. Nikki, who appears later in the series, belongs to a family with an unemployed elderly dad whom Lauren and Abbi mistake for her grandfather. Adjusting to the financial constraints caused by her father's loss of income complicates Nikki's life.
Jenna, Abbi, and Dan represent the single-parent family category. Jenna's father has died, and, although her mother and sister support her ambitions in dance, they try to encourage her to lighten up and consider alternatives to ballet. Even her visiting Caribbean grandmother, Nana, who initially introduced Jenna to ballet, encourages her to try other possibilities. Abbi's undependable father has lived in Australia since she was ten; her mother works long hours as a real estate agent to support them, leaving Abbi to baby-sit her little brother, Joe. Dan lives with his father, an eccentric writer who believes in "getting in character" for his fictional themes and who subjects Dan to the food and culture of each subject he explores. "Dan's entire life was ruled by the nationality of the characters in his father's stories." Their fortunes ebb and flow according to Dad's productivity and Mom's maintenance cheques.
Many of the standard "problems" faced by adolescents challenge these young people - family relationships; friends and society; racial, ethnic, and class relationships; romantic/sexual relationships; conflict with parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and other adults; self-doubt and lack of confidence; academics. Medical issues, like depression, drug overdoses, epilepsy, mononucleosis, anorexia nervosa/bulimia, and death receive attention. Among the social issues are homelessness, manipulative peers and adults, unscrupulous landlords/ladies, sleazy promoters, illegal refugees and those who prey upon their fears, unemployment, economics, firebugs, initiation rites, thievery, and sexuality.
For example, Abbi becomes the unwitting tool of her idol, television star Blair Michaels, in Blind Ambition and deals with her again as a possible arsonist in Secret Stranger. Jenna's disciplined passion for dancing (Dancing Dreams) propels her into a dangerous anorexia/bulima condition in Standing Tall. Matt succumbs to mononucleosis in Heartbreak Hero which only increases the pressure from his father to "be a man" and quit dancing. Lauren rebels against her father's demands to continue with "serious" classical music by skipping school and spending time with street people in Drastic Decisions. Dan suffers when his dad neglects simple details like rent and food in Clowning Around but tenaciously pursues his dream of being accepted as a serious actor (Double Drama). Facing reduced finances, Nikki impulsively steals film for a class project and then finds herself accused of a major camera theft until she clears her name in Stolen Dreams.
Published in Great Britain by Orchard but written by Canadians, the series occasionally incorporates purely British expressions, changes probably made by editors. For example, Matt's illness is referred to as glandular fever rather than mononucleosis. Similarly, Abbi's mother is an estate agent rather than a real estate agent, refuse goes into a waste bin - you get the picture. However, the activities and struggles of young people entering adolescence transcend borders. Although the tone differs among the authors, the series remains fairly even. Each volume is approximately 100-120 pages in length and includes a preview of the first chapter of the next book. Plenty of dialogue and action advance the plot; the main characters are "nice" people, or at least show the potential of being nice if conflicts can be resolved and obstacles overcome. Many of the secondary characters are types rather than developed personalities. The "Stage School series" should entertain young readers with an interest in the performing arts who also enjoy getting to know a set of characters well through several books and adventures rather than having to wait for yearly updates.
Darleen Golke works as the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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