The 20 students in the New Albany High School Summer Academy performing arts class are getting more than just one high school course credit in fine arts: They are gaining experience in a profession many hope to pursue after graduation.

The 20 students in the New Albany High School Summer Academy performing arts class are getting more than just one high school course credit in fine arts: They are gaining experience in a profession many hope to pursue after graduation.

"This is my dream," junior Khris Ross-Wilcox said of acting. "I feel like this is what I was put on this Earth for."

Junior Justin Varney said he, too, is interested in acting, having secured his first lead role in the summer production of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."

In the comedy written by comedian Steve Martin, Varney plays Albert Einstein and Ross-Wilcox plays Pablo Picasso. The two characters meet in a Paris bar, the Lapin Agile, to talk about their work and how they will influence the next century, said Elliott Lemberg, the theater adviser and a drama teacher at the high school.

"It's a historical comedy," Varney said. "These men are out to make their inventions known."

Ross-Wilcox said he is accustomed to performing in comedies, but "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is more of an intellectual comedy, which should help him become more diverse as an actor.

"It pushes the envelope of serious and comedic, trying also to put intellect into it," he said. "It's an interesting play that makes you think and laugh and keeps you drawn in."

For Varney, the production is his first comedy, in addition to his first lead role.

"I think the biggest challenge is memorizing every single line," he said. "I'm used to small parts."

The biggest challenge for Ross-Wilcox, who has done everything from hitting the gym to shaving his head for previous lead roles, is the timing of the production, which went from the conceptual stage to production in seven weeks.

"It's the biggest play I've done in the shortest amount of time," he said.

The production also is different because it will involve "alley staging," in which the actors perform on stage between a seated audience. Lemberg said that the play will be in Mershad Hall at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts. The smaller room will have a stage set up in the middle and the audience will sit on each side.

"The environment will be a lot more interesting, not only from the actor's point of view, but from the audience's standpoint," Lemberg said. "They (the audience) will be much closer to the actors than they will be in another space."

Besides working to complete the production in a short time, the actors also took performing arts classes every Monday from June 27 to July 25 to learn about acting, directing, costume design, lighting, props, scenery, sound and stage managing, among other topics. The class cost $250.

Lemberg said 15 students are in the cast of the play. They had to audition at the end of the school year to earn a part.

Four students, all of whom were in the classes, are on the production crew. Others, including four NAHS graduates, Lemberg said, have volunteered to help when they can.

The students also are working with a guest artist from Colorado, Carla Sandoval, who is helping them paint the stage to set up the scene.

Performances of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 4, 5 and 6, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, at the McCoy center.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Seating is limited to 100 people and tickets will be sold at the door only.