Making the Grades
Fame—that illusive moment in the spotlight—doesn’t come easy. And that is exactly what the teachers and principal (Debbie Allen) at New York’s Performing Arts High School want their students to know. Discipline, practice, attention to the details of their craft and hard work help, but they can’t guarantee success.
Nearly 30 years after the original Fame movie released, there is a whole new generation of students auditioning in the rundown classrooms at the city’s prestigious public institution. They arrive on the big day, nervous and excited to prove they have the right stuff. Of 10,000 applicants, 200 make the cut as freshmen.
From there the film rushes through four years of high school with a cast so large it is difficult to really get to know any of the kids. Alice (Kherington Payne) is a dancer whose parents have been paving the way for her career from the time she was four or five years old. Her confidence and expectations are evident. Luckily she seems to have the talent to make it happen. Unfortunately things aren’t so rosy for the male dancer (Paul McGill) from Iowa who has to work doubly hard to keep up.
Meanwhile, Denise (Naturi Naughton) is locked away in a classroom practicing her musical pieces to fulfill her father’s dream for her, to become a classical pianist. Neil’s (Paul Iacono) desire to be a filmmaker has him begging his hard-working dad (Howard Gutman) for production money.
Down the hall in theatrical arts, a timid student (Kay Panabaker) stands at the front of the room and performs a faltering rendition of a love song. Then another classmate (Collins Pennie), who is attending the school without his mother’s knowledge, lets his anger spill out in a rap song. Their friend, Marco (Asher Book), who sings in his family’s restaurant, is just happy to show up at school everyday.
Each passing semester sees some students soar while others stumble as they face new experiences. Their abilities are tested when one teacher (Megan Mullally) takes them out of the safety of the high school and pushes them to perform in front of a real audience at a nightclub. Other teenagers learn life lessons after getting drunk, facing unwanted sexual advances, and being repeatedly rejected at cast calls. One performer even contemplates suicide when his dreams for a future career disappear.
The audience I screened this production with (consisting of dancers, their parents and the staff of an elite athletic school) seemed to buy right into the story. I’m sure most of those aspiring young athletes see themselves shining on the stage one day. With a bit of luck and hard work some of them might even succeed. In the meantime, I hope the warning about pushing your children to satisfy parental dreams wasn’t lost on the adults.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Fame.
At the CarnEvil party, Denise wears an angel costume. What does this choice say about her character? Why is it difficult for her to stand up to her father? What does she discover about her mother?
The music teacher (Kelsey Grammer) tells his students that study, drills and practicing technique frees talent rather than stifles it. What do you think he means? Why is it important to master the basics of any discipline?