Pathway for future stars

Conservatory opens door to global experiences

HARLINGEN — She’s been singing and dancing her heart out on stage since she was a little girl.

Now, Aaron Blount will be able to rub shoulders with the big names in the industry, thanks to the new Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.

“I really want to pursue a career in the arts,” said Aaron, 14, a sophomore at Harlingen High School South.

“This will give me the opportunity to work with people who have been on Broadway, people who can really teach us how to break into the industry,” she said. “At regular high schools they don’t teach you how to do that.”

The conservatory will be housed at the HCISD Performing Arts Center, said Sally Cavazos Navarro, fine arts specialist for the Harlingen school district.

“They’re going to receive rigorous training in theater, musical theater, technical theater and dance,” Navarro said. “We’re also having guest artists in the profession coming down and teaching master classes for them.”

The conservatory is open to students from other school districts — some from McAllen have already enrolled — and so far 60 students have signed up.

Students must pass an audition in order to be accepted into the program. Those who are accepted will take their core classes at their regular high schools and then be transported to the conservatory for afternoon classes in their chosen track. This will be their daily schedule throughout the week.

“We have so many talented students in the arts and we wanted to provide the best training for them,” Navarro said. “It’s going to offer intense training in the section that they choose. For example, if there’s somebody who would like technical theater, there’ll be intense training by professionals and guest artists from all over the United States.”

Technical theater?

Shane Strubhart, spokesperson for the district, explained.

“Those are the guys in the background controlling the audio and the lighting,” Strubhart said. “Also, they build the sets, they do the makeup, the costumes, all the background.”

He explained students taking coursework at the conservatory would travel by bus from their prospective schools to the location. They will take classes there during the normal class day.

That’s what Aaron’s excited about.

“I’m very excited since we spend half a day at the conservatory and it’ll be a lot easier to focus on this,” she said.

Students seem to see the conservatory as a sort of “jumping off” point toward greater things. In time interaction with top-ranking professionals also attracted Leroy Zaller, 15, to the program.

“I think they can make my acting experience 100 times better and I can actually make it on Broadway,” said Leroy, a junior at Harlingen High School. He’s also enrolled in the musical theater track of the conservatory.

“We have actors, we have musicians, everybody all coming to help us,” he said.

Meeting such successful entertainers is exciting — and a little intimidating.

“People who actually made it, it’s a little scary to me,” he said with a laugh.

For many students, it’s the opportunity to continue a passion they’ve pursued their whole lives.

Just ask Alexa Strubhart, 15, a junior at Harlingen High School South. She’s enrolling in the theater track.

“I’ve always been in theater and I enjoy more the acting portion than the singing portion,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about it because we are going to be the only place probably in Texas with a fine arts academy and a lot of kids are coming from all over the Valley.”

Navarro said the district has been getting calls about the new opportunity from McAllen, Brownsville and other locales. She said the new conservatory is expected to give students at the Lee Means Fine Arts Academy the chance to continue their passion in the performing arts.

“It will complement the academy because we’re trying to align everything,” Navarro said. “That way, the students from the academy can eventually come to the conservatory and follow that aligned path.”

How to audition

WHAT: Auditions for the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory

WHEN: June 24 and 25

WHERE: HCISD Performing Arts Center

3217 W. Wilson Road