learn / 2014

Los Angeles Drama Club: A Creative Home for Young Shakespearians to learn create and grow

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Drama Club

Art saves lives. The youth in our community need a safe space to create, play, and grow as young Shakespeare scholars and performers.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Art saves lives. The youth in our community need a safe space to create, play, and grow as young Shakespeare scholars and performers.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • South LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

LADC runs a successful & rapidly growing free arts program for children & youth.  We intend to secure and upgrade a permanent venue to serve the immediate and growing demand for our arts & literacy programs, both after school and on weekends.   With a permanent space we will increase the number of classes, rehearsals & workshops for kids (6-15)  in the Mid-City/West Adams/South LA area. For 9 years, our programs & productions have increased literacy in our players, provided them with camaraderie & community, and inspired a love for Shakespeare & theatre. We need a safe space over which we have creative & physical control, to maintain the quality of our students’ learning experiences and to further expand the availability of our programs.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We are determined to have our own space within the next three to five years, but this grant will allow us to make it happen in one year. We have already begun to move forward!

We are researching available space on West Adams, Washington, Venice, Jefferson, and Crenshaw, and have already targeted two possible properties. In addition, we have a working relationship with the City of LA and its relevant representatives on this matter.

We have a strong relationship with the West Adams and MidCity Neighborhood Councils and have built much support for this endeavor in District 10.

We will choose a building that will benefit the needs of LADC and the local community. Our location will be specifically chosen to cater to local schools and it will be centrally located in relationship to the communities we serve, establishing ideal proximity to our students and further simplifying, if not eliminating, transportation challenges.

We are establishing relationships with other artists and programs to whom we will rent space - benefiting our children, by giving them the opportunity to interact with working artists and professionals in the LA community, and the artists, who will have a safe and inspiring place to work.

We have secured volunteer professionals: IATSE LOCAL 33 trained stage technicians who will set up the performance space and help transform the space into a true “Arts Center” - free for the children of Los Angeles.

We will then hold an Opening Fundraiser in the New Space to bring awareness to our programs, to our mission, and to our communities. In future years, the space will host our star-studded Annual Gala Benefit (celebrities perform with our students as scene partners in excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays) again helping bring awareness to our organization and to the neighborhood.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

We are the nation’s youngest Shakespeare Troupe and have had great success in creating a lens through which our players view Shakespeare’s plays, and discover a rich world that has immediate relevance in their lives. We are passionate about guiding our students on a journey to confidence and self-discovery. Some of our students come with dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome and other learning & social challenges. Traditional school has not served these children well, but theater offers a learning environment that allow children with different strengths and learning styles to work together to create magic.

Come to one of our shows - you would be stunned to learn that the boy who is bringing the house down with his antics was too shy to speak when he first came to class. The child who is nimbly navigating the verbal twists and turns of that monologue had a hard time deciphering a single line just 14 weeks ago. The girl who is fighting for her character’s objective with focus and commitment has severe ADHD - after years of battling over lost homework and books left here and there, her parents have told us that she always knows exactly where her Shakespeare folder is.

During their time with us, students become intimately acquainted with as many as over a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays. We discuss and decipher and debate the morals and life messages for which Shakespeare is famous - imagine what will happen to our city as these children are let loose, and become the civic leaders of tomorrow.

We know, first-hand, the magic that theater can work. We also know that, within LA, there are communities that do not have the financial resources to experience to the cultural, educational, and artistic treasures of LA. The Los Angeles Drama Club serves as an access point for the youth of Los Angeles, and opens their eyes to the possibilities. We ask for the children’s participation, not only as performers in our Shakespeare productions, but as citizens in our community. As a parent recently wrote, “We are truly grateful for the chances you have given our son. He always came home excited about what he had learned. Thanks to you, a whole new world has opened up to him.”

Whom will your project benefit?

We help children in Mid City, West Adams, South LA and beyond. While our primary focus is Los Angeles’s District 10, families bring their children from Inglewood, Compton, Lennox, Leimert Park, Norwalk and San Pedro. In our current neighborhood, there are few walkable community centers, active arts programs, or central merchant-lined streets. Yet, there are hundreds of youth on the streets who need a productive and safe way to spend their time - these children are our target.

According to the LA Times, the median household income in our target area is around $40,000, and the percentages of households that earn $20,000 or less and $20,000 to $40,000 are high for the county. Only about 20% of residents 25 and older have a four-year degree, and about 30% of families are headed by single parents.

These statistics paint a picture of a typical family that does not have a lot of disposable income to spend on enrichment programs, a parent who may not have first-hand experience with the benefits an arts education can provide, a parent who does not have the freedom and flexibility to chauffeur children across the city. These families are our target.

There is no better way to explain the benefits of our organization, than to share with you some of the things our families have to say:

“We are a low-middle class family, and there isn’t a lot of support when you’re in the middle. The fact that the classes were free allowed my daughter to experience this life-changing program while we focused on keeping the lights on at home.”

  • Myshell Tabu, parent in Mid City.

“L.A. Drama Club is an extraordinary organization that introduces kids to Shakespeare, not by dumbing it down or “kid-ifying” it, but by actually teaching the young actors to understand and interpret the text.”

  • Dee Dee Cooper, teacher in Mid City.

“You can see the impact that it has on the youth simply by witnessing a rehearsal, workshop, or performance. Bringing Shakespeare to Los Angeles youth is not only great for the children, it’s great for Los Angeles and our arts community. This is a professional and passionate project of the heart that deserves your support.”

  • Scott Fifer, Go Campaign

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We have been sharing space and “playing well with others” for 9+ years. As we move into the next phase, we feel our organization will be best served by having the freedom and independence to make the artistic and administrative choices that will best serve our students, rather than making compromises that best serve the groups with whom we have shared space.

That said, we are drawing on the expertise of the following individuals:

Real Estate Professional (this individual has not been confirmed, though we are in discussions with three people) - Having a knowledgeable “eye” on the areas we are targeting will help insure that we are made aware of all appropriate spaces that become available. Three factors critical to our success:

  • An extensive knowledge of the real estate in our target area.
  • A passion for improving our communities.
  • An ability to think creatively about alternative space. We don’t expect an actual theater to become available, so we need to work with someone who can see the possibilities.

Stage Specialist (Dante Larsen, IATSE Local 33) - Dante will be instrumental in designing the performance space to be cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly, and above all, safe. We have been working with him since the beginning of our organization. Three factors critical to our success:

  • Extensive knowledge of stage construction and lighting set-up
  • A passion for helping young people succeed
  • A network of stage professionals to draw on for volunteer labor

A remarkable characteristic of our organization is the enthusiasm it incites in those who discover our community: we have had many parents, friends, associates, fellow artists, community leaders, neighborhood councils, local merchants, and independent business take interest in our children and our mission. With our own space, we look forward to embracing more of the people who are interested in being a part of LADC. We envision a creative learning community and look forward to welcoming other like-minded organizations to our space, as we have been welcomed in our past, and giving them a place to grow.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • Strengthen critical thinking skills

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts Academic Performance Index scores As a child works on a Shakespearean character, magic happens. We regularly receive reports from parents & teachers about rapid improvements in fluency, vocabulary & reading levels in our students. Many are facing challenges like shyness, dyslexia & ADHD - challenges that have made school into a painful & tedious chore. Often, these students get frustrated & lose interest; being a good student feels like a lost cause. Studying Shakespeare breaks through that barrier & excites them - digging into the character, and being a part of the excitement of putting on a play is so powerful that they don’t realize that they are decoding complex language.

We work through the text with them, focusing less on rote memorization and more on meaning; with time, not only do their literacy rates skyrocket (standardized tests reveal many of our 4th graders to be reading at 9th grade levels), but they acquire fluency in a Shakespearean second language. Studies have shown that brains equipped with the cognitive processes to master several languages have improved major functions such as general learning, creativity, mental flexibility, interpersonal & communication skills.

Youth unemployment and under-employment

As our students move into high school, many are motivated to continue with us. We have created a “teacher training” program, to work with these students to develop leadership skills, and give them the opportunity to use those skills in the field, as volunteer Associate Teacher/Directors. Our new space will expand the need for Associate Teacher/Directors and we are currently working with our attorney to explore the possibilities of turning some of these into paid positions; meanwhile, students gain invaluable real-world experience.

Strengthen critical thinking skills

Bloom’s Taxonomy says that the highest level of critical thinking is the ability to form an opinion & be able to discuss the finer points of why. This is a regular occurrence in our programs. People often assume that children performing Shakespeare are parroting the words, but our children know the plays on a much deeper level and are able to draw conclusions about the themes, defend their character’s actions, make choices as to how a scene is performed, explain why those choices were made, debate with those who have different opinions about a choice - all skills that demonstrate high levels of critical thinking.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Once we have secured our space, we plan to create a report at the 12th month comparing:

  • the number of students reached
  • the number of teachers employed
  • the number of programs offered. Our goal is to expanding each metric by 200%.

Additionally, we will hold regular meetings among staff and board members to collect constructive criticism and target areas in our program that need more attention.

We will also be asking 10 to 20 families to participate in a survey to gather anecdotal evidence of the benefits of our program - these families will report on grades, test scores and teacher evaluations and how they change as the child participates in our programs.

At the beginning of our project, we will establish a timeline that will estimate our future program development and expansion, which will serve as a consistent marker of the goals we wish to reach.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

LESSON ONE: The Challenge of Sharing Space. We have been regular paying tenants of theatre/club spaces for the past 9 years.  As long as we are paying tenants, we are never totally “at home.” Our costumes cannot stay overnight without risking damage or loss. We arrive at the space and must improvise with what we find or don’t find that day. Our spaces are often used as music/nightclub venues in the evenings, and we often have to deal with the remnants - a less-than-ideal environment for young people! We have become flexible, great at compromising, community minded, and incredibly responsible in caring for another’s space. Sometimes, we have had to wake up maintenance staff to let us in the space at the agreed times, while we wait with 26 of our students on the street. We have learned that we deserve to move to a new level at this stage in the company, and we believe that the appropriate next step is for Los Angeles Drama Club to have its own space.

LESSON TWO: Lessons of Maturity. Our non-profit is mature now and ready for this challenge of our own building. Our teachers and staff have a long history of healthy communication and a rigorous work ethic, and we know that we can handle this next step. We have a consistent following of children and families, we obtain regular grants and we hold fundraisers - we are ready to be in a space that is for our mission only. We look forward to transferring the energy that we now use dealing with our “shared space challenges,” and focusing it on what we do best - creating a beautiful, inspiring environment in which children can learn and grow.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Right now, LADC has a three year plan to obtain a headquarters for our organization. We have a fully supportive advisory board, a board of directors actively pursuing funding, and eager teachers and administrative assistance. We are establishing an active relationship with a real estate broker, and have already begun targeting potential spaces.

Regardless of all of the wonderful support from our Drama Club family, we need additional financial support to accomplish our goal in less than three years. The fact of the matter is, we have many dedicated students already, and dozens more children on our waitlist.

The implementation of the growth and outreach of our Shakespeare youth program can happen almost instantly with funding. We have stage professionals standing by to help us adapt our space and get it up and running. We have teaching artists standing by to take on new groups. In a matter of months, we would be able to expand our program to a regular six-days-a-week schedule, bringing more kids off the streets and actively engaging their imaginations.

By opening the Los Angeles Drama Club Arts Centre, we will be able to expand our programs with more efficiency and speed, providing more children in the LA community with the opportunity to learn, play and create in a safe and regulated space.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Challenge One - Finding the appropriate space: We need a space that will provide space for performances, rehearsals, storage and administrative offices. Strategy: Cast a wide net - we have enlisted many eyes in our search (real estate professionals, our Board Members and families, our Neighborhood Councils), and have already targeted two possible spaces. Think creatively - with input from our Stage Specialist, we are looking at all types of buildings.

Challenge Two - Making the space sustainable Crucial to the successful implementation of the project will be the ability to support the increase in space costs beyond the term of the grant. Strategies: Establish relationships with other artist/tenants - we are currently targeting groups and individuals who would be able to serve as sub-tenants, and lessen our obligations Increase programming - we are currently in a situation where the rental cost is the largest expense when we add a new session or program. Having our own space would remove that consideration. New programming opens us up to new grant possibilities. Development - we will take advantage of the excitement generated by our new space to target new donors, both private and corporate. We have the full support of our Board of Directors who are eager to take on the challenge.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)