Alyssa Canalicho knows firsthand that too much free time and nowhere to go can be a recipe for trouble.

The 19-year-old Philadelphia Community College student said young people in her South Philadelphia neighborhood might not fight or get high so often if they realized they could be doing something better.

"Kids want to get high all day, when they can be here doing something fun," she said.

The "here" is the Prince Music Theater, where, last night, Canalicho and other area teens performed with the theater's Youth Arts in Action Corps, a program that teaches teens all aspects of theater - dancing, singing, acting and backstage work.

Led by a team of theater professionals and educators who advocate for solutions to youth violence, the YAAC has about 40 students aged 13 to 19, of all talent and skill levels.

The teens showed off what they had learned in last night's public opening of YAAC's program, a production inspired by "West Side Story" called "Something's Coming!" which was staged at the theater, on Chestnut Street near Broad.

The students also recited original poems and monologues about violence in the world around them.

Canalicho, of South Philadelphia, recited her "Only a Memory," a monologue recounting the story of a Virginia teen named William Gilliom whose dreams of becoming an Olympic wrestler died the night he was murdered at a party.

She said she has managed to steer clear of this type of senseless violence and avoid the trouble that plagues her neighborhood, thanks to her involvement in the YAAC.

"[YAAC] has definitely kept me off the streets," she said.

Carolyn Sims-Nesmith, education director at the Prince, thinks schools should not be so quick to cut their arts programs.

"You can't just say 'stop the violence' without giving them anything to turn toward," she said. The arts "have a tendency to change lives.

"It allows them to take their energies and apply them in a very positive way."

For Kyle Leatherbury, 17, the YAAC gives him a chance to have an impact on others' lives.

"The message within [the show] has made me look for a positive solution rather than a negative and has given me the confidence to help and stand up for others," he said.

Leatherbury, of West Philadelphia, recited his poem, "One Love, One Heart," about racial discrimination and violence.

"What's so hard to let love be, to let love have no boundaries and no color line?" he recited.

After "Something's Coming!," the YAAC will perform at area schools and the Youth Arts Festival, April 20-24.

At the Prince, the show runs again tonight at 7 and tomorrow at 3 p.m. *