The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company hosted its 11th Annual Be Unusual Gala in May. The star-studded event paid homage to 26 years of mentoring, educating and enriching the lives of underserved youth across L.A. through theater-based programs in local schools and juvenile detention centers.
The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company Executive Director Melissa Denton says the organization’s flagship 20-week after-school program, the Youth Theatre Residency, guides young people to share personal stories to inspire and collectively write a script, build their own original production and participate in a stage play. “We provide a time where kids can come together and use their imagination in a positive way,” Denton says. “Kids become more self-aware, they become more confident and it builds their communications skills. They’re reshaping some of their choices by using their storytelling.”
The nonprofit has served more than 8,500 students since its inception in 1993. In 2018, it offered theater-arts education and mentorship programs in and out of schools to serve 1,762 students, culminating in 21 public performances. One student who benefited from the program is Julio Quijada, who was in a juvenile detention center in 2013. Today, he serves on the board of directors for The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company and as an intern at NBCUniversal. “He’s become a leader,” says Denton.
Hosted by actress and comedian Melissa Peterman, the night featured a high-end live auction, raffle and a performance from Markham Middle School students. This year’s gala honorees included The Unusual Suspects’ founder and actress Laura Leigh Hughes; actor and filmmaker Malcolm M. Mays; actor and filmmaker Jerry Levine; and producer and former chairman of CBS Entertainment, Nina Tassler commemorating their longstanding commitment to The Unusual Suspects. Funds raised from the gala will be used for training teachers, collecting data and satisfying the growing demand for the program.
Visit theunusualsuspects.org for more information.