Unusual Suspects Bring Theater to At Risk Youth

Unusual Suspects

The Unusual Suspects are up to their usual work rehearsing a play written and performed for people who could just as well be in the audience as on stage.

In fact, they could just as easily be in jail as in the footlights, and in some cases, the actors have seen both sides of life.

The theater group has existed to bring art to youth in the foster care and juvenile system for the last 17 years with the purpose of cultivating pride in their community and breaking down racial intolerance.

“Our youth that have been engaged in criminal acts or have been incarcerated, many people have the idea that these youths are really a lost cause, but they are not, they are extremely resilient, and our group shows them respect,” Fairman said.

The Unusual Suspects has a simple idea about helping solve a complicated set of problems -- crime in neighborhoods, family dysfunction and gangs. Their next performance of Life, Love and Lies will tackle those social issues with residents of the San Fernando Garden’s Housing Projects as actors.

Through the program, many of the actors have gained confidence in their abilities and look towards a brighter future.

“You have people putting you down in school and people are always categorizing us,” said actor Sergio Padilla. “They say you aren’t going to make it through high school, and you are this percentage or that percentage. So I want to take this play to the youth and show them if I can do it then you can do it.”

Padilla said his family constantly put down his achievements as “showing off” and kept telling him he would never amount to much and never graduate high school, but he knew better and has put those experiences into this play.

Karen Cobarruvias was attracted to the Unusual Suspects because she loves action, and she said that even though the dramatic message may not sink in with the audience right away, it will eventually.

“I keep in mind that I am giving the public a message,” Cobarruvias said. “I am not just acting, I am giving a great positive message.”
Theater Director Daniel Chacon said he sees the positive message in the audience reaction.

“Theater has the power to essentially control someone’s emotions,” said Chacon. “An actor on stage can make someone in the audience feel something, and that is a magical thing.”

And that magic travels from community to community. And anywhere there are voices that need to be heard, there are the people who are willing to listen.

“And this is why I do this work,” Fairman said. “Because these are all our children, and we should all profit by or pay for whatever they become.”

The next public performance of Life, Love and Lies on Dec. 7, 2009 will be for the families in the GRYD Program, that is the Gang Reduction Young Development Program, which is aimed at kids on the precipice of being in gangs. That performance will take place at Pacoima Charter Elementary School, followed by a performance at San Fernando High School on Dec.9, 2009.

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