By Josanta Gray
No doubt, the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company is one of the most unique theatre companies in California, if not the country!
Born out of the ashes of the 1992 LA Riots, this Los Angeles based organization mentors underserved youth through art programs. They are putting a completely new spin on the saying “it takes a village to raise a kid.” How so? Gang activity, violence, and crime plague the streets of Los Angeles. That’s why Unusual Suspects has set out to help low-income communities cope with these challenging issues. Through programs and workshops, the staff helps kids channel their anger into written plays and performances.
They’ve definitely taken center stage in my heart! Mainly because they’re picking up the slack in order to give our youth the proper tools to learn. The Los Angeles Unified School District has cut funding for arts programs by 76% in 5 years — ouch, right? I believe in the power of theater because it’s a breeding ground for innovation, creativity, and change. But if you’re not convinced, here are five more reasons you should put them on your radar.
+ 98% of Kids Mentored Stay In School
Photo: (Unusual Suspects)
The Los Angeles Unified School District has one of the WORST high school dropout rates in the country — only 64% of students graduate in the district. Dropping out of school may have worked for Kanye, but it won’t for the rest of us. 98% of kids in the the Unusual Suspects programs stay in school! The program director of the org, Melissa Denton, revealed in a Q&A, “a lot of these kids come from situations where they didn’t see a lot of options. They have a lot of negative influences. They didn’t have somebody there saying you’re not going to quit this. We give them a way to deal with some of their anger. We give them the sense that there are different paths to take and we play them out in our storytelling.”
+ Celebs Are Down With Unusual Suspects
If you ever get the chance to pop into one of their workshops, you might catch one of your favorite celebs onstage reading a play written and casted by kids in the program. We kid you not! Celebs like George Clooney, Cindy Crawford, and J.J. Abrams have supported this organization in numerous ways. I mean, come on, would you expect anything less from George Clooney? They guy recently paid a stranger’s restaurant tab. And he can rock a white beard at the Oscars like no other.
+ One Degree Of Separation From Quentin Tarantino
Fun fact! The theatre company piloted a Musical Theatre Residency program at Narbonne High School — a school that Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino once attended. Each year this program helps at least 250 kids develop original music, core performance and playwriting skills. You never know, they could be molding future Oscar winners.
+ White House Stamp Of Approval
Unusual Suspects is too legit to quit because the White House says so. In 2008, former First Lady Laura Bush presented the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the organization for their hard work. It’s one of the nation’s highest honors.
+ It’s Such A Game Changer
Photo: (Unusual Suspects)
Unusual Suspects has helped reduce juvenile crime, gang involvement, and re-incarceration among offenders. Specifically, the organization created a 20-week program called Camp G that’s run at a juvenile probation school. Here, participants collectively write a 45-page script about their life experiences.
A program alumni once said, “without The Unusual Suspects, I don’t know where I would be today. My only path was a street corner or the back of an apartment building. The Unusual Suspects showed me how to express myself and that gave me the spunk to grow up and be responsible. They didn’t treat us like criminals.”
So there you have it guys, five reasons the Usual Suspects totally rocks! For ways to get involved, take action with them below. You can still help them out — whether or not, you live in LA!
The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects mentors underserved youth through art programs in LA. Find out how to help them!
Follow The Usual Supsects
The Usual Suspects mentors underserved youth through art programs in LA. Show support by following the org on Twitter!