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Moved By Stories: Theater Opens Doors For Youth In Los Angeles

“I want to show these kids stories about their lives and to show them who they can be.”

We’re all moved by stories. They have the power to help us better understand the world and each other. Recently, we sat down with Theater Facility Manager Efrain Schunior to talk about the importance of story, his work, and the goals for the theater program at A Place Called Home.

Would you mind sharing a little bit of your background?

Efrain: I’m originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I’m a first-generation college student. When I went to college the first time, I was not prepared and dropped out after the first year. It took me five years to find my path and get back to college. I went to UCLA and earned my MFA in directing, which is a very prestigious honor. For more than 10 years, I’ve directed and produced theater all over Los Angeles. I’ve taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, New York Fringe Festival, and San Francisco Fringe Festival.

What drew you to A Place Called Home?

Efrain: I want to help young students, no matter their race or where they’re from, to find their path sooner and get prepared for college. I want to make that transition easier. I’ve been there. It would have certainly benefited me if I’d had A Place Called Home.

Describe the theater program at APCH.

Efrain: The theater program is just a year old. We are exposing teens to quality theater around Los Angeles, and teaching them theater technique, design, and production, including lighting, sound, projection, costume and scenic design, as well as stage management and producing. We bring in guest lecturers and host workshops to show our members that theater can be a viable career path.

What about the kids who enjoy the theater, but not as a career? Is there a place for them?

Efrain: Of course. To be art citizens and to be theater watchers is very important, because we learn more about who we are. I want them to see it, talk about it, and think critically about it.

Why do you think theater — and this theater program — is so important?

APCH Blog 1000x500_theater (1)Efrain: As a teenager, I felt pretty alone. I felt like nobody understood me. Just in general, when you’re a teenager of color, maybe it’s compounded more, and you never see your story out in the world.

Until you see a person who looks, sounds, acts, and comes from a place similar to where you come from, having a career in a field you feel passionate about, you don’t know how to dream it. You don’t know that that’s available to you.

I want to show these kids stories about their lives and show them who they can be. I’m trying to expose them to artists of color and stories that relate to them in some way so they can see themselves and dream bigger.

What does success look like?

Efrain: A lot of times in this community, our kids are taught not to shine. They’re taught not to stand out. Their natural performer instincts get taken away. It’s not cool to perform. I want to keep our kids shining through high school so they can shine on in their lives.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share?

Efrain: We have one teen member named Joey who is a natural performer. When I first got to A Place Called Home, he had to do a monologue for school. I suggested he do the Hamlet “To be or not to be” monologue because I felt like he could understand it. We talked about it. He was going to take it home and memorize it. But a week later, he decided he couldn’t. He was scared. This month, we did an actor showcase where every actor in the class had a monologue and two scenes with different actors. I gave Joey the “To be or not to be” monologue, and he nailed it. It was awesome to see him go through the fear and struggle, but come back and be successful.

Be sure to check out the work we’re doing with kids in the arts. And, if you can, get involved!

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