Yet local actor and director Susie Duff believes in them, and has devoted the past seven years to help free them-on the inside.Duff
works with the incarcerated youth of the Los Angeles juvenile detention centers, Camp Vernon Kilpatrick
and Camp Gonzalez, both located in the mountains of Malibu
, teaching them classical improvisational acting technique and exercises.
"Because so many had such a tough break in their lives, they are very limited [in their options]," Duff
said about her
work with the teens in a recent telephone interview.
said, quoting Lauren Bacall, " 'Imagination is the highest kite you can fly.' When you do the work on the inside, they can be free."
"It's bigger and badder than ever," Duff
said of the upcoming production.
After each story is told, the improv troupe will take the stage and, with suggestions from the audience, "riff" on the tales, giving them back their story with their spin on it, with the eyes of a kid who is locked up," Duff
said.Although Duff is the teacher, she said the teens she worked with are so bright and quick, that "once they get the concept, they school me."Her
work done beforehand, the teens run the show from the "get go," Duff
said.In addition to the performance, they do the introduction and host the question and answer session afterward.
"People are amazed by the discipline they have to do this," she
"[They] are working on a very sophisticated level here," she
added, explaining that with improv, the actors are the writers, producers, directors, choreographers and the scenery.
"Improv is to the world of arts what extreme sports are to the athletics - the ultimate taking of responsibility of ones' self," Duff
said.The youth from Camp Kilpatrick have performed at the Malibu Stage Co. in prior years under the moniker, "Locked up in Malibu," doing improv as well as "slam" poetry.Duff
worked with Malibu resident Susan Heyward, and, until his death in 2002, Heyward's producer-husband, Deke, mentoring and teaching poetry and acting skills to the youth.
believes the therapeutic benefit of being able to express themselves through acting, especially improv, is too great to ignore.
"What you have to learn as an improviser is to get to the heart of conflict," she
said."You also have to get into resolving conflict."
The number one rule in improv, Duff
said, is "don't deny."
"To make it work you accept [what is said] and then add to it [in a positive way] to forward the story.You build the story," she
said the "kids locked up are master deniers," they "become on their feet, very adept at conflict resolution."Duff
receives no county funding to help with teaching the locked-up youth, although she
does receive private donations.Her
said, is to get other improv teachers to go into other camps around the country.But for that, funding is needed.
"What's the worse that can happen," she
asked rhetorically, "that our kids get better?"