In the hallway, the choir is practicing its la-la-las. A few painters are camped out in the courtyard, re-creating the flower garden on canvas. And inside the auditorium, full-throttle teenage drama is raging.

The actress, a middle school student, and the actor, from high school, are reading lines as theater teacher Troy Dobosiewicz does the blocking--mapping out the moves they should make on stage. And one of his suggestions has escalated into near-crisis.

"Uh--I can't give him a hug," said the actress, speaking quickly and definitively. The idea didn't seem to faze her partner at all.

Dobosiewicz thought for a second before telling them to forget the display of affection and read on. After all, they have only one week left in Summer in the Arts '99, an enrichment program for Loudoun County middle and high school students. This year--its 14th--the program began June 23 and runs through Friday at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn.

The 118 students enroll in daily two-hour or four-hour workshops in the visual and performing arts taught by 13 Loudoun County public school teachers. On Friday evening, the "Arts Explosion" will showcase the students' work with an art exhibit and a big production number.

The $200 participation fee covers about half the program's $30,000 budget, with the remainder coming from the school district's talented and gifted program.

"I wish I would have had something like this when I was in high school," said Eric Scott, who teaches painting at the summer program. During the regular school year, he is an art instructor at Potowmack Elementary School in Sterling.

Arts education can be neglected in some school districts if they are strapped for cash or focus solely on the core subjects of reading and math. Even in Loudoun, music and art classes are squeezed into one room at some crowded schools.

And although School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has wanted for years to begin a string music program in elementary schools, fiscal constraints in the fast-growing school district have prevented it. That makes Summer in the Arts even more important, according to program coordinator David Holt, who will be a technology resource teacher at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg during the coming school year.

Most summer arts students attend Loudoun County public schools, but any child in sixth up to 12th grade who lives in the county is eligible. Several students attend private schools during the regular school year.

Because of Loudoun's rapid growth, some participants moved to the county just days before Summer in the Arts began. Brothers Carl and Paul Quesnell recently moved from Reston to Ashburn, and their participation in the arts program may quell first-day jitters at Farmwell Station Middle School, where they will enroll in late August.

"I've [already] met some of the kids who go to Farmwell Station," said Carl, 12, who is taking the drama workshop.

Holt, who is running the program for the first time, has high hopes for its future. Next year, he wants to boost participation 40 percent, to 200 students. And he wants more high school students to attend. Traditionally, more than 80 percent of the summer arts students have completed the sixth, seventh or eighth grades, making it hard to attract the older teenagers.

"I think there is a stigma of being in a class with middle school kids," Holt said.

He also would like to offer scholarships to students who cannot afford the $200 fee.

The three most popular workshops are drama, drawing and ceramics, Holt said. But most of the students had never sketched a still life or molded clay before last week.

Despite that, Lindsay Fenner, 14, said she may become an artist because she is enjoying ceramics so much.

"It expands my horizons, and my dad's giving me a pottery wheel and a kiln," said Fenner, who will be a freshman at Broad Run High when school starts up again.

Kim Nguyen was twisting wire into the shape of a kneeling woman. She sat at the back of a classroom, rarely uttering a word as she sculpted.

"They have teachers here who will critique you and help you," said Nguyen, 14, who also is thinking about an art career. "But they don't really tell you what to do. You have your freedom."

Students unanimously raved about the program. Several of them said their summer alternatives were nowhere near as engaging.

"It's 11:30," said Sandy Lawson, 14, as she worked on an oil painting of flowers. "[I'd] probably still be asleep."

CAPTION: Lindsay Makara works in ceramics class, one of the most popular workshops at Loudoun's arts enrichment program at Farmwell Station Middle School.

CAPTION: Alex Dezendorf shows off his guitar skills before class starts. The summer arts enrichment program, which is in its 14th year, has 118 participants.

CAPTION: Drama students rehearse songs from "Cabaret." The program is open to county middle and high school students.

CAPTION: Marilyn Cooper, left, and Justin Hines work on a tune during a piano/keyboard class, while Kim Nguyen, below, takes wire and gives it shape as a human figure. "They have teachers here who will critique you and help you," she said of the program's instructors--13 teachers from various county public schools. "But they don't really tell you what to do. You have your freedom."