Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hard News: Interview, Part I

I was recently interviewed by Vibrant Nation about The Shakespeare Club. This was the first question:

1. When and how did you begin to devote yourself more to giving back?

I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be an actor, dancer, or a writer - a teller of stories in some kind of limelight. I started acting at age 3 and had my Actors' Equity card by 18. I enjoyed an exciting acting career that spanned over 20 years on stage, on TV, and in film. In 1996, I finally left acting, but I continued in show business as a writer and acting coach.

At the same time, I've always done volunteer work of some kind. Acting can be a very self-centered profession, so even as a teen actor, I tried to balance that by working at the women's shelter, feeding the homeless, volunteering at church, or teaching English to new language learners.

The Shakespeare Club came to be when I found myself in a creatively fallow period at the same time that a local elementary school was reaching out to the community for help. I'd been reading about and was disturbed by the high percentage rates of young teens dropping out of school - especially minority children. By ninth grade many can't read well and they lag in math. They feel so incapable that they drop out. They become ripe for gang recruitment because they need to feel part of a family and feel cool.

I volunteered at __________ Elementary here in Los Angeles as a reading mentor because I wouldn't have been any good as a math mentor! Later, because of my acting background, I came up with the idea of kids discovering empowerment through the plays of William Shakespeare. The kids I work with are in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade, and I thought if the right seeds could be planted early, maybe some of those dropout numbers could be turned around.

The Shakespeare Club after-school program at __________ Elementary is now going into its fifth year. We have twenty actors, a stage manager, and two students who handle lights and sound, as well as fifteen students who work on props during their lunch break. We work very intensely for five months during the year, both in groups and in one-on-one coaching sessions. At the end of the year, the kids do four performances in front of the entire school. It's amazing to see the kids onstage and watch them instantly become stars. I remember, after a performance of Twelfth Night, how the awed younger students came up to touch the actors' hands. It was fantastic. Shakespeare Club is now the cool club in school.

I did achieve want I wanted to achieve. I learned that its very fun. I remember some of the others lines. Watching everybody say everything that’s my favorite part. If we could choose to stay longer I would. I love acting. I can be very funny. But I was imbarrest. I think next year you see how funny I can be. This is my first year. I hope I get in Shakespeare club. I love Shakespeare.
Celia, 3rd grade

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