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Alumni Where are they now Spotlight

Katherine-McPhee.jpgKatharine McPhee - CSSSA Creative Writing and Theater 1999, 2000
Actress and recording artist Katharine McPhee currently stars as Paige Dineen on CBS’ hit drama Scorpion.  The star attended CSSSA in 1999 and in 2000, studying Creative Writing and Theatre.  We are proud to recognize her with the CSSSA Alumni Inspiration Award at our 30th Anniversary 2016 CSSSA Gala Benefit.

McPhee starred opposite Debra Messing in NBC’s hit series Smash, executive produced by Steven Spielberg. McPhee appeared on the big screen in Relativity Media’s “Shark Night 3D” and also co-starred in the Adam Sandler comedy “House Bunny.” McPhee’s other television credits include Hallmark’s TV movie In My Dreams as well as episodes of CSI: NY, NBC’s Community and Family Guy.  She was also featured on two hit PBS specials, “Foster and Friends” and “Chris Botti in Boston,” alongside Sting, Andrea Bocelli and John Mayer.

McPhee spent 2010 touring the country with her album “Unbroken,” which included the hit single “Had It All.”  McPhee burst onto the scene in 2005 on Season 5 of American Idol where she was the runner up. McPhee’s self-titled debut album landed at # 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2007. The album went gold in 2008, and in 2009, she garnered a Young Hollywood Award for Best Female Vocalist.

Pixar.jpgCSSSA Pixar Alumni
CSSSA Animation and Visual Arts alumni Stephen Gregory, Sanjay Patel, Bobby Podesta, Mark Walsh, and Tasha Harris, have helped create the computer animation hits Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and Toy Story 3 for Pixar and Disney.


Milo-Talwani.jpgMilo Talwani (CSSSA Music 2011) and Katya Richardson (CSSSA Music 2011)
In 2011, Katya Richardson and Milo Talwani were chosen for the highly selective Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program (CFP), which only takes four students every two years.  As members of the CFP Class of 2011-2013, Milo and Katya had the opportunity to participate in composition lessons, received mentorship from leading composers and performers, and had the opportunity to hear their own works performed by the LA Philharmonic!

Rodrigo-Reyes.jpgRodrigo Reyes (CSSSA Film 2012) and Jesse Allain-Marcus (CSSSA Film 2012)
Two outstanding CSSSA Film students from the class of 2012, Rodrigo Reyes and Jesse Allain-Marcus had their films, The Last Family Picture (Allain-Marcus) and One Mom (Reyes), accepted to the 2013 LA Film Festival's Future Filmmakers Showcase!

This prestigious showcase features short films by serious high school-aged filmmakers from around the world.  Attended by 90,000 film lovers each year, the LA Film Festival is a major springboard for talent, serving as a qualifying festival for the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards short film category.

Juan-De-La-Cruz.jpgJuan De La Cruz - CSSSA Theatre 2007 and 2008
Juan De La Cruz attended CSSSA twice, majoring in Theatre in both 2007 and 2008.  He describes his CSSSA experience this way: “One of the things I loved most about the program was the passion with which all the material was presented as well as the respect that everyone had for the theatre – the sacred space.”

At the end of his second summer at CSSSA, Juan was awarded the Herb Alpert Emerging Young Artists scholarship in Theatre.  Juan graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in December 2012, and is already working full time as an actor! He is performing in the award-winning educational theatre program created by Kaiser Permanente, which uses the theatre arts to raise awareness of health issues.  Juan’s company visits high schools to perform What Goes Around, a play that educates students about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases.!jesse/c11hh

Zac-Efron-1.jpgZac Efron attended CSSSA as a Theatre student in 2002.
He gained worldwide fame as a teen heartthrob playing Troy Bolton in the popular High School Musical films for Disney.  He also received acclaim for his portrayal of the character Link Larkin in the filmed version of the Broadway musical Hairspray.  In 2012, Efron took the lead in The Lucky One (2012), a film adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel, playing a marine who returns to North Carolina after serving in Iraq in search for the unknown woman he believes was his good luck charm during the war. He also lent his voice to the animated feature Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012), and co-starred in Lee Daniels' thriller The Paperboy (2012), as well as Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts (2012), which premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival

Terra-Easton-Forgette.jpgTerra Easton Forgette - CSSSA Theatre 1996 and 1998
CSSSA alumna Terra Easton Forgette now serves as the Executive Director of the Amador County Arts Council, also known as AmadorArts.

A graduate of Stanford University, Terra served for nine years as the Program Director of Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families prior to her current job supporting and expanding the arts community of Amador County.  

About her time studying Theatre at CSSSA, Terra says that it was "an unforgettable and formative experience!  I believe that arts education creates unparalleled opportunities for young people to discover their own interests, strengths and passion."

Alex-Hirsch.jpgAlex Hirsch - CSSSA Creative Writing 2001 - CSSSA Theatre 2002
Alex Hirsch attended CSSSA twice in 2001 and 2002.  Alex has found phenomenal success as the creator of the Disney show, Gravity Falls, and was recently profiled in the New York Times, who described his show by saying, “Picture someone putting ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ ‘The X-Files’ and Martha Stewart into a blender and animating the outcome.”


Starlee-Kine.jpgStarlee Kine -CSSSA Creative Writing 1992
Starlee Kine studied Creative Writing at CSSSA in 1992, and she has since become a well-known media voice.

She has been a regular contributor on Public Radio International's This American Life, and her work has also been featured on Marketplace.  She writes for New York Times Magazine, and is working on a book about self-help entitled, It IS Your Fault.

One of Starlee's most popular stories for This American Life was a 2002 segment, "Musicians Classifieds," in which she helps put together a one-day band out of mismatched musicians in the classified section of the newspaper, with surprisingly satisfying results.

Christopher-Lam.jpgChristopher Lam - CSSSA Creative Writing 2011
In 2012, CSSSA alum Christopher Lam took the stage at the TEDxYouth@Conejo Conference to deliver an inspiring speech.  

Entitled "Do Something that Scares You," Christopher's speech focused on the advice he and his classmates were given by Creative Writing faculty member, Zay Amsbury, and how it continued to impact him, well beyond his time at CSSSA.

pablo-lopez.jpgPablo Lopez - CSSSA Theatre 2012
Pablo was a 2012 Herb Alpert Emerging Young Artist Scholarship recipient, and in January 2013, became one of the 10 finalists for the LA Regional August Wilson Monologue Competition, hosted by Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.  He performed his monologue at the Mark Taper Forum, and was awarded first prize.

Trace Turville, a member of CSSSA’s Theatre faculty, was in the audience, and she had this to say about Pablo’s performance: “He was elegant and gracious and so, so active.  He hit every moment.  He was real, direct, you could hear every word he said, and he was just lit up all the way down to his toes.”

Craig-McCracken.jpgCraig McCracken - CSSSA Animation 1988
Craig McCracken is now an Emmy Award-winning animator.  He is best known as the creator of the animated television series, “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.”

Suraj-Parthasarathy.jpgSuraj Parthasarathy - CSSSA Music 2013
La Crescenta drummer and actor, Suraj Parthasarathy wasn’t at all sure what he was getting into when he attended CSSSA this past summer.  But he quickly found out:

“The promise of a ‘life-changing’ experience is pretty hard to deliver on.  But CSSSA delivered.  The faculty members that I learned from were top notch, all from the best schools in the nation.  The other students I met were passionate about their art, and have become good friends of mine.  CalArts was a great college to be at.  However, the most brilliant thing about CSSSA, in my opinion, is the collaboration.  Working with so many talented artists from different disciplines was truly an eye opening experience for me.  Whether it was the opportunity to write the soundtrack for a film created in the animation department, or play music with the theatre groups, I enjoyed every second of it.”
Suraj impressed his CSSSA instructors so much with his upbeat attitude and many talents that they awarded him with the prestigious Herb Alpert Emerging Young Artist Scholarship!  Suraj had another amazing opportunity after attending CSSSA: acting alongside an all-star cast in the 2013 film Ender’s Game, based on the beloved fiction novel by Orson Scott Card.

“Being in a film as popular as Ender’s Game was quite an incredible experience.  For me, the best part was working with iconic actors Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley.  As an artist, I am always looking to improve myself, and I honestly think that I learned more about acting than I could learn in a lifetime from those two men, just watching what they do and how they do it.  Not to mention I was completely star struck!  Ender’s game was fun in every respect: from the science fiction, to the cast I got to work with, the sets, the director, the stunts…everything! I hope to work again soon.”

Bonny_Podesta.jpgBobby Podesta - CSSSA Animation 1992
After attending CSSSA, Bobby went on to become a big part of the Pixar team, working on major hits including: A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Toy Story 3.  He was Directing Animator on Cars, and his team won the “Best animated Feature” Annie Award.  Bobby was also nominated for an Annie for his individual animation work on Cars.  He is now Chief Creative Officer at Toy Talk, a family entertainment startup, and is a member of the CSSSA Advisory Board.

Camille-Brown-Schenkkan.jpgCamille Brown Schenkkan - CSSSA Theatre 2001
Alumna Camille Brown Schenkkan attended CSSSA in the Theatre Department in 2001.  A small town girl who is making a big impact now, she describes the CSSSA experience by saying, “I come form a town of about 700 people in rural Siskiyou County in Northern California, and coming to CSSSA felt like entering another world.”

After CSSSA, Camille was inspired to continue studying theatre, and she went on to get a dual bachelors in Theatre and English from Scripps College and a Masters in Arts Management from Claremont Graduate University.

She is now the Program Manager for Emerging Artists and Arts Professionals at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.  She states, “I’m proud to work in Education and Community Partnerships department at Center Theatre Group, the largest theatre company in the western states.  I design and implement programs like the CTG Student Ambassadors leadership program, free workshops, a robust internship program, and fun pre-show events for young adults.  I always love it when a student I’ve worked with is accepted into CSSSA!”

José-De-Jesús-Soto.jpgJosé De Jesús Soto - CSSSA Music 1999 and 2001
José Soto, a CSSSA 1999 and 2001 Music alumnus, has truly brought his talents full circle.  He is now the Chair of the Music Department!

Born and raised in Los Angeles, José began his training at Plaza de la Raza in Lincoln Heights studying piano, guitar, and voice.  At age 13, he received a full scholarship to attend the Idyllwild Arts Academy as a piano major. In 2003, José was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Southern California majoring in piano performance.  After receiving his Bachelor of Music degree in 2007, José was awarded an Assistant Lecturer position at USC, where he continued to pursue his Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees, with minors in conducting and jazz.

José has performed and taught around the United States and Mexico.  He has held faculty positions at Plaza de la Raza, Glendale Community College, and served as the Assistant Dean of Admissions for the Idyllwild Arts Academy. In 2011, José was the Principal Piano Instructor at CSSSA.

In his own words, "As a student, CSSSA instilled the hard work, seriousness, and passion it takes to create and understand music.  As Chair, I hope to pass on those characteristics that have made the program so invaluable."

Kirsten-Vangsness.jpgKirsten Vangsness - CSSSA Theatre 1990
Kirsten Vangsness is best known for her portrayal of the beloved character of FBI technical analyst, Penelope Garcia, on CBS's Criminal Minds and its spinoff series, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.  But, she is also very acclaimed for her work on the stage, which has earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Natalie Schafer Award for best emerging comic actress, the 15 Minutes of Fem Best Actress Award, and a Garland Award for best actress for the West Coast premiere of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig at the Geffen Playhouse. Kirsten recently played the femme fatale in Bill Robens' 2013 film noir spoof Kill Me, Deadly, for which she will also serve as the star and executive producer for a feature film version.

As a writer, Vangsness has created several plays and performance-art pieces that have been enjoyed by Los Angeles audiences. Her one-woman show, Mess, was performed for sold out audiences at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood. Her work has also been published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

Kirsten still recognizes the formative impact of her time at CSSSA, and serves as a member of our Advisory Board!

Teal-Wicks.jpgTeal Wicks - CSSSA Music 1998
Teal Wicks, now a working singer and actress, has starred in several Broadway productions.  One of her most memorable roles is Elphaba in the Broadway production of “Wicked.”  Teal currently serves on the CSSSA Advisory Board and still remembers her time at CSSSA—“My summer at CSSSA was a very special experience for me.  It was a thrill to be immersed in a University setting completely dedicated to the arts and I believe it was a turning point for me in my growth as a performing artist.  I left the program with new friends and an empowered spirit to pursue my dreams.”

Juan-Zuniga.jpgJuan Zuniga (CSSSA Music 2011), Cesar Alas (CSSSA Music 2011), and Andrea Busco (CSSSA Film 2011)
Cesar Alas and Juan Zuniga both studied Music at CSSSA in 2012, and now they are members of The Unending Thread, a rather genre-defying band—or as they describe it, “a collective of musicians that help each other make music.”

The Unending Thread’s music video for “I Don’t Cosplay” was filmed and edited by fellow CSSSA alum Andrea Busco (CSSSA 2011 Film), and the video was accepted to the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY)!

Juan was recently admitted to the Musicians Institute, where he will pursue a Bachelor’s of Music Degree in Guitar Performance.  Here’s what he had to say about the CSSSA experience: “Thank you so much for giving me the motivation to follow my dreams.  CSSSA has been very enriching and inspiring.”