LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge

Elevate Young Voices

Since 1993, The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company (USTC) mentors, educates, and enriches the lives of youth from under-resourced LA County communities to support their socio-emotional and academic well-being through the creation of collaborative, original theatre. USTC has developed a new five-year strategic plan to 1) expand our reach to make theatre arts education free and accessible to youth and families, and 2) elevate the artistic quality of programs to the level of professional theatre companies.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Opportunities for People Who Have Been Incarcerated

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Youth in the communities we serve face socioeconomic barriers to well-being, as well as mental health, career, and education challenges. Most of the youth are at-risk of gang involvement, crime, and incarceration or recidivism connected with a lack of adequate social and educational services; many have been in foster care, juvenile detention, or on probation. Access to quality arts education is limited in the areas we serve. Only 25% of all LAUSD students have access to theatre-arts education, and less than 10% of campuses offer after-school theatre-arts programs, which are proven positive alternatives during the hours when most juvenile crime occurs. UTSC is particularly concerned about the well-being of justice-involved youth. California's juvenile justice system continues to change, eliminating facilities and reducing staff at remaining sites. As a result, enrichment programs that offer hope and provide support for justice-involved youth continue to experience reductions.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The focus of USTC's work - whether at schools and juvenile detention centers, through intergenerational community-based programs, or via our growing professional development services - is to ensure that LA County youth have equitable access to free, quality arts education. USTC programs fill a critical gap - often representing the only theatre-arts programming available to the youth we serve. USTC programs are designed to leave a lasting impact on the youth and families who are so often overlooked - including foster youth, English Language Learners, Special Education and Neurodiverse students, incarcerated minors and adolescents suffering from anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Provided a safe space for uncensored self-expression, our participants can identify and leverage their innate talents while fostering creativity, confidence, and essential lifelong skills. More importantly, USTC offers them a transformative path to overcoming inequitable circumstances resulting from decades of systemic racism. As we celebrate 30 years of service in LA County, our programs continue to raise the bar of excellence for arts-based education and intervention programming. We are updating curricula to better connect with and meet the needs of today's young people and provide the best possible platform for students to learn and create theatre-arts - and aim to cultivate the next generation of artists and industry professionals from within our own communities.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company asserts that the Future of Theatre Lives in LA and this vision is only possible by making theatre and quality theatre arts education accessible to students throughout LA County. Having grown from a single volunteer-led program into an award-winning regional leader in the fields of arts education, youth development, mentorship, and community building, The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company's overarching purpose remains: to provide Los Angeles's BIPOC and incarcerated youth and their families with powerful platforms to express themselves and creatively explore personal and social conflicts through the highest-quality of professional theatre-arts education. We have embarked on a series of initiatives to center our communities; integrate anti-racist and anti-colonial practices across structures and programs; and better support the well-being of our community members. This transformative work is ongoing and central to everything we do.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Guided by CA's Arts Standards for Theatre, USTC's best practice methodology was designed to promote creativity while remaining culturally responsive, healing-focused, and sensitive to post-pandemic stressors that continue to impact BIPOC communities. USTC evaluates program impact with standardized, quantitative pre- and post-residency surveys, as well as qualitative reflections from participants and teaching teams, and testimonials from parents/faculty. Staff and Teaching Artists jointly review results, modify program design/training as needed, and share data monthly with our Board's Program Committee for continuous quality improvement. Recent results confirm our vital impact: ? 87% of participants learned to respect people who are different from themselves. ? 82% of participants had new or stronger relationships with friends and classmates. ? 78% of participants stated that theatre helps them feel better about themselves. ? Participants' level of self-confidence increased by 85%.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 2,000

Indirect Impact: 6,000