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Time running out for CAPA to fund a student musical

Time has almost run out for CAPA students' hopes of putting on a musical, the centerpiece of their school year.

CAPA juniors Camille Pileggi and Michael Adkins work on their makeup before a show.
CAPA juniors Camille Pileggi and Michael Adkins work on their makeup before a show.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Time has almost run out for CAPA students' hopes of putting on a musical, the centerpiece of their school year.

With just a few days left until the deadline to raise enough money to produce a show, the High School for Creative and Performing Arts' parents group is about $6,000 short.

That the city's premier arts school will go a second year without its signature performance breaks senior Maya Bjornson's heart.

"When we can't do the biggest performance of the year, what does that say? It says the arts aren't a priority," said Bjornson, 17.

At schools around the city, the Philadelphia School District's dire budget has meant unprecedented losses in programs and staff. Many schools now lack full-time counselors and nurses, and have no extracurricular activities.

The needs are so acute that the veteran dancer and choreographer David Pershica, a teaching artist with the Philadelphia Theatre Company, held auditions Wednesday for a production of Hairspray for students whose high schools don't offer musicals.

Pershica, who said CAPA students can participate in his musical, said he was startled by the lack of arts programming in city schools.

"I was taking it for granted that schools have arts programming. When I went to school, it was like having a football team or a basketball team. These days, that's not the case at all," said Pershica, who graduated from Upper Darby High School.

Terrilyn McCormick, a CAPA Home and School Association vice president, said her group had other fund-raising priorities, too - attracting cash for art supplies, books, computers, producing a literary magazine, even buying chemicals so science students can perform experiments.

But the musical is special.

"It's been a really, really challenging year," said McCormick, whose son is a sophomore theater major. "We hoped, if we could have the musical, that would raise people's morale."

The parents' group set Friday as a deadline for raising $20,000 - not the full cost of staging a musical, but enough to cover most of the bills. To date, it has raised just over $13,000.

Until three years ago, the district provided money for CAPA's musical, but that was discontinued.

Two years ago, a William Penn Foundation grant made the show possible. Last year, there was no money, but parents vowed to establish an annual fund and get the show up and running in 2014.

When people heard there was to be no musical last year, some expressed interest in helping. The William Penn grant also provided a consultant to help organize fund-raising. But there have been no big checks from noted alumni, a group that includes the musicians Questlove and Black Thought of the Roots, the members of Boyz II Men, the jazz bassist Christian McBride, and the actor Mark Webber.

Questlove had expressed interest in helping last year, but nothing ever materialized. A letter-writing campaign didn't raise big dollars; efforts to reach influential people who might help didn't yield a hero with a big check, either.

"We're trying, but it's a slow road," McCormick said. "This is the first time there's ever been an annual fund for CAPA. It just seems like that's a necessity for public schools now."

Increasingly, public schools have to raise major private funding to provide the basics, separating schools into the haves and have-nots. But major fund-raising isn't possible everywhere. At CAPA, for instance, half the students fall below the poverty line.

In Upstate New York, Daniel Wisniewski is watching closely. He graduated from CAPA in June and now attends Ithaca College, one of the country's premier schools for musical theater.

He said the experience of playing Javert in Les Miserables during his junior year at CAPA was life-changing.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't do the musical at CAPA," Wisniewski said. "It can affect a person's life so profoundly. I just feel so disgusted."

Roman Fiorella, a junior theater major, said the musical was the one thing students of all stripes could participate in. But he's bracing himself.

"It's a shame we can't have this experience," Fiorella said.

Bjornson, CAPA's senior class president, said the musical was "the standard the school year is based around. It's one of the biggest cuts you could make to a school like CAPA. This would be one of the biggest performances of our lives."

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