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High school students to perform original musical 'Gimme Shelter'

The phrase "college preparatory" normally brings to mind advanced high school courses in math, science or history.

Performing in an original musical with well-known songs by the Rolling Stones doesn't exactly fall under this category. However, class is in session this weekend as 40 students from 14 local high schools take the stage at the Academy of Theatre Arts in Williamsville to put on "Gimme Shelter," an original musical criticizing the communicative problems and technological excesses of the youngest generation.

The performers are participating in the Academy Encore Ensemble theater company. The program, a private entity, gives students from area high schools intensive study in acting and musical theater with the goal of placing them in collegiate theater programs. The students are from Williamsville North, Williamsville South and Kenmore East high schools and Nardin Academy, among others.

"Gimme Shelter," the company's fifth and final show this year, critiques what Dina Slawson calls a "generation of entitlement." Slawson is the artistic director of the ATA Theatre, director of the Academy Encore Ensemble program and the sole scriptwriter for "Gimme Shelter."

"I think we're talking about teen and tween years more than anything else," Slawson said. "They feel that there aren't a lot of consequences anymore."

The story focuses on a group of teens staying at a New York City compound after a mysterious entity, called the Shutdown, disrupts electronic communications, shuts off the electricity and taints the public water. Through the course of the musical, the teens learn how to survive together in this new world while realizing how little they gave of themselves to their old society.

According to Slawson, the company purchased the rights to perform nine Rolling Stones songs during the musical, including "Paint It Black," "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" and the show's title song, "Gimme Shelter."

Students from the program have gone on to various theater programs at schools such as Ithaca College, Columbia College in Chicago and Emerson College in Boston.

Frankie Campofelice, 19, of Elma, is one of two former company members who have recently finished their freshman years at Emerson. Emerson's bachelor of fine arts musical theater program only accepts about 25 students for each class year from almost 1,000 applicants.

"People always think I'm lying when I show them my resume," said Campofelice. On top of musicals at Iroquois High School, Campofelice performed in about 15 shows with Academy Encore Ensemble. "It's awesome because Dina and the academy have given me the opportunity to play these parts and become more well rounded as a performer," he said.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. today and 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Academy of Theatre Arts, 5505 Main St., Williamsville.

e-mail: sbrachmann@buffnews.com

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