Creative options for at-risk youth

“Mad TV” actress Debra Wilson hosts “LA Street Scenes,” a one-time performance of a show written by locked up youths, Saturday, at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica.

By Joe Fasbinder / Special to The Malibu Times

They’re not gangsters or taggers or even troubled youth. They’re actors and, on June 10, they’re going to be presenting a show depicting life as youths who have encountered violence, crime and more-entirely written by teenage boys in prison.

The world premiere of “LA Street Scenes” takes place at the Promenade Playhouse located at 1404 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica to benefit Create Now!, an organization that “hooks up people in the [entertainment] industry with at-risk youths to expose them to other creative options instead of gang-banging, tagging and a feeling of going nowhere,” said Diane Namm Schirtzer, a Malibu resident and co-director of the one-time performance.

Co-director of the project, Natalia Lazarus, also lives in Malibu.

“LA Street Scenes” is the result of workshops Namm conducted at the local juvenile detention center in Malibu.


“The writers who contributed to this piece are teenage boys who have a long history of violence and crime with little previous exposure to the arts. Every one of their stories tells about a moment in their lives when everything changed-a brother shot, a mother lost, a split sec ond decision that shattered their worlds forever,” Namm said.

“Basically, as a writing mentor, I went into a juvenile detention camp and taught screenwriting to boys ages 14 to 18 as part of their English class-it was part of their writing requirements. I taught a screenwriting workshop. They were reluctant participants at first, but then actually built some trust as they shared their experiences. I asked if they would like to see professional actors perform their stories, and they did,” Namm said.

Actors from the Promenade Playhouse, working for free, came to the detention center and put on a performance-first for the students in a classroom environment and then as a presentation to the entire facility.

“It was a memorable and moving experience,” Namm said.

Not only were the boys affected by the stories, but guards and teachers, too, told Namm the project provided powerful insights into the minds of juvenile offenders.

Now, following the prison performance, actors are going to present the 13 vignettes written by the students to the public for the first time. And some of those short plays are going to be a surprise to attendees, because they sometimes present happy moments.

“One of the boys is now 18 and out of camp and hopes to be there,” Namm said. “He’s a kid who decided that he was going to change things as an adult, and stay away from what was dragging him down.”

Original hip-hop music by a Create Now! student will also be performed during the performance, which will be hosted by actress Debra Wilson from “Mad TV.”

The show is being produced, directed and performed by professional actors who are working without pay to benefit Create Now!

Create Now! exists to effect a positive change in the lives of troubled children through creative arts mentoring. The organization serves high-risk and at-risk youth ages 2 to 21, who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, orphaned, are homeless, runaways, foster children, teen parents, victims of domestic violence, gang members or are part of the juvenile justice system.

Jill Gurr, who previously put together two screenwriting workshops at Los Angeles youth detention centers, founded the organization as a nonprofit in 1996 because of violence she saw during the Los Angeles riots three years earlier. She has been featured on the NBC Nightly News as someone in the United States who is “making a difference.” She was assisted in founding the group by the late writer/producer Leslie Stevens, whose television credits include “The Outer Limits” and “McCloud.”

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. event are $50-$75 and available by calling 213.484.8500 or by going online at A silent auction will take place before the show and during intermission. VIP ticket holders will be able to attend a Q&A with Debra Wilson after the show and attend an after party and receive gift bags. Tickets can also be purchased directly from the box office at 310.656.8070, extension 17.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

Related Articles





Latest Articles


%d bloggers like this: