SAMOHI — It’s not every day that an Oscar-nominated art director volunteers his time to help high school students build sets for their theatre productions.
But thanks to a top-notch theatre program and a group of connected and enthused parents, Santa Monica High School has attracted some of the best in the business; most recently Al Hobbs, whose work on the visually-stunning “Life of Pi” may be rewarded with an Academy Award later this month.
Hobbs, a veteran of the stage and screen, has spent several weeks with students in Samohi’s theatre program designing and building sets at the beautifully-restored Barnum Hall for the students’ production of Steven Sondheim’s “Into The Woods,” which opened Friday and runs through Feb. 17.
Hobbs, whose work on “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” was also recognized with an Oscar nomination, earned a master’s degree in set and costume design from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He wanted to lend his expertise to the students as part of a theatre tradition, which calls for those with skill to lend their expertise in hopes of inspiring the next generation of creative minds.
“It’s really exciting to get the opportunity to teach something,” Hobbs said. “These kids are smart and really into it. You genuinely feel like you are contributing to the future of the craft. The talent of these kids in the program is unbelievable.”
It’s not the first time Hobbs has volunteered his time at Samohi. In 2010 he helped the students during their production of the musical “Rent.” He was first introduced to the theatre program and Barnum Hall, which he describes as “spectacular,” when he took his nephew to a Samohi production of “Wizard of Oz.”
“I was just blown away at the performance and the quality of these kids,” he said.
The feeling is mutual.
“It’s actually kind of cool to see somebody in the business helping us at high school,” said Samohi senior Richard Castillo, who helped build sets for “Into The Woods.”
“It’s interesting to see how he does everything, how he designed the trees, how he comes up with the whole concept,” Castillo added. “He’s a cool guy. You’d think he’d be a Hollywood person, but he’s just a normal person who is here to help.”
Castillo said Hobbs worked with the students to come up with the designs and let them put in the work necessary to bring it all together.
“It wasn’t just, ‘Here’s a paint brush, go paint that,’ or ‘Here’s a nail, go put that in,'” Hobbs said.
Carey Upton, director of theatre operations at Samohi, believes it is critical to have professionals work with students so that they see a future in theatre, particularly behind the curtain, where there are opportunities for a rewarding career.
“We look for volunteers. Some of it’s just people out there in the field who respond to our requests, while other times it’s just the connections we have built over the years,” Upton said. “Our team here is very developed to support the students and their process, and we are committed to that.”
It wasn’t just the students who benefited. Hobbs said he enjoyed his time with the youth, who reminded him of his days in high school theatre.
“This year we can say honestly that most of the show was built by the kids,” Hobbs said. “And that’s pretty cool.”
For showtimes and to purchase tickets to “Into The Woods,” visit www.samohitheatre.org/ or call (310) 395-3204, ext. 71241.