Life-changing performances

Pictured left to right are: Peter Ramirez, Mario Rivera, Malcolm Walker and Tim Perez two years ago performing at Malibu Stage Co. The four spent time in a juvenile detention facility, but now are on their way to new lives, inspired by poetry and song. David Wallace / TMT

Locked up youth to perform encore with senior storytellers.

By Lesley Lotto/Special to the Times

A group of teens from a local juvenile detention camp and an African-American storytelling group will join forces again, performing June 4 at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church for Tales by the Sea, a local storytelling program.

It will be the last performance of the season for the teens from Camp Vernon Kilpatrick Juvenile Detention Center. The group, called Locked up in Malibu, first appeared in performance several years ago at the Malibu Stage Co. theater with enthusiastic response to their rap-style poetry and improvisational comedy.

The improv group appeared with Teller and Talkers, a group of African-American storytellers in early January at another local church to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This time, four out of the five seniors from Tellers and Talkers of the Los Angeles-based “Tell Me a Story Storytelling Workshop” headed by Barbara Clark, will perform. The program is funded by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department where Clark is an artist in residence. Clark teaches seniors how to turn their life experiences into structured stories they can present in front of an audience.

The four will each tell a story, then the teens will go on stage and perform an improvisation based on each story.

The storytellers taking part in the event are Edna Nicholson, Evangeline Seward, Barbara Wright and Frances Washington.

“Even though these seniors haven’t performed in the past, they have developed in the past six months as wonderful storytellers,” Clark said. “The boys at Kilpatrick are really very good, the woman that works with them is just brilliant. I think it will be a unique and groundbreaking [show].”

The woman Clark speaks of is local actor and director Susie Duff, who runs Camp Kilpatrick’s improv program and is the director of the Tales by the Sea show.

Duff said her take on life, how it changed after living in New York, had a great deal with how she become involved with the youth at the detention center.

“I was working on Broadway in New York,” Duff said, “the theater actors’ entrance was off 8th Avenue and, at the time, eight years ago, was synonymous with sex shows and slums. When I came back to Malibu land, the street was very much in my blood, it was really in me.”

The difference in lifestyles between the two cities impacted her greatly. And then an encounter with a friend helped Duff realize how she, as an artist, could help people.

“I was at a friend’s house. She’s this incredibly hip, really together mother who had a really bad day with her kids. She told me she drove them to a detention camp and told them ‘this is where bad kids go.'”

Although she was embarrassed and appalled by her friend’s actions, Duff had an epiphany-she made an appointment with the director of the camp so she could teach start teaching improv.

“Classical improvisation is the ultimate taking of responsibility,” Duff said. “This is about teaching life skills.”

Duff said she tells each teen she doesn’t want to know why they’re in there because she doesn’t want to be afraid or be hateful. She said the toughest thing to teach them is the number one rule of improv: “Don’t deny-because they’re masters of denial.”

Duff said her goal with her work at the camp is to become funded and recognized. She works with the camp youth two times a week and said it’s her passion.

And Duff’s passion shows through the work the youth from Camp Kilpatrick display.

“We’re all glued to our telephones and televisions,” Buxie said. “This is an incredible way to get to know one another. Stories create a safe place to be, it’s not a political thing; you’re not in court. It’s so wonderful to see these guys come out and do a show with no experience and to hang in there and not give up on each other. One of the guys said for them to be recognized as actors and not labeled as something else is life changing.”

Tales by the Sea begins at 8 p.m. at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, 3625 S. Winter Canyon Road. Tickets are $10. Reservations can be made by calling 310.457.2385. The evening includes an encore with the audience and an opportunity for performers and audience to chat and eat together after the show.