While the rest of Team StarKid was off gallivanting with Sean Astin, Dylan Saunders and Darren Criss returned last weekend to their hometown of San Francisco to take part in the 2012 Season Gala for the American Conservatory Theater, where they met ten years ago as young performing arts students.

Darren and Dylan joined 400 other guests and alumni at the gala, which was “black-tie-with-a-twist,” so bright colours and extreme accessories were encouraged. The evening included a cocktail reception, dinner, and the performance of an original musical titled Tales of A.C.T.!, written especially for the occasion by A.C.T. Publications Manager Dan Rubin.

Aside from participating in the musical alongside two-time Tony Award winner Bill Irwin, actors Patrick Lane and Betsy Wolfe, students from the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program and Young Conservatory, and members of A.C.T.’s Board of Trustees, Darren also performed a few musical numbers, including James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” with Dylan and other alums Rachel Rubenstein and Charlotte Ubben, as well as addressing “I Believe In You” from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying to a child version of himself, played by young A.C.T. student Matt Avery. He also played his well-known original song, “Not Alone,” backed up by the Young Conservatory Cabaret, and appropriately, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”

Dylan, Darren and some other alumni also took part in a Q and A, an acting advice session for the 180 Bay Area high school students and teachers with a passion for the arts who were sponsored to attend this event.

(Darren Criss and Matt Avery perform “I Believe In You”)

(Darren Criss and Bill Irwin)

(Darren and his parents at the Gala)

(Darren, Dylan Saunders and fellow alums give a Q&A)

Darren spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about returning to the city by the bay for the event:

Q: What’s it like to return home as a headliner for ACT, where you used to be a student?

A: It’s one of those full-circle moments. I started with ACT’s Young Conservatory when I was 9 or 10, and I used to take part in the galas as a kid. I remember one where I played the violin. I probably wasn’t that good on the violin, but I was this cute kid wandering around in coattails. I was a walking, talking prop, which was fun.

Q: You made your professional stage debut here in a trio of musicals with 42nd Street Moon, “Fanny,” “Do I Hear a Waltz” and “Babes in Arms.” What does that experience mean to you?

A: The 42nd Street Moon years are in tandem with the ACT years, and I’m grateful I got to foster my love of performing from a young age. Looking back, it was nice to have a place to put those interests. I was learning so much about musical theater that I never could have learned on my own. I mean, what 11-year-old knows every song in “Do I Hear a Waltz?” by heart? On a more personal level with 42nd Street Moon, all my friends were these twenty- and thirty-something theater hopefuls giving me rides home and taking me under their wing. Most kids were home watching TV and playing video games, and I was getting a burger with these guys in the Castro. I was surrounded by this vibrant, wonderful theater culture. I wasn’t really aware of it then. That’s just how it was.

Dylan shared his feelings about the event on Twitter:

Doesn’t this sound like a fun event?

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