Lakesha L. Green is a firm believer in the positive effect theatre can have on young people.
“It changes their lives,” she says. “It gives them the opportunity to tap into things that they didn’t know they had in them.”
Since 2008, Green has been the theatre arts director for All Walks of Life (AWOL), the arts–based intervention and prevention program for Savannah’s at–risk youth. Through theatre, music, sound design and other such programs, kids learn to channel their considerable energy into something extraordinarily creative.
“They get to see the possibilities they wouldn’t have known were there, if this opportunity wasn’t there for them,” she explains. “And I think that is the most beautiful thing. Theatre and the arts, they just unlock things. They unlock the creativity that’s just sitting there.”
This weekend, the young people of AWOL (ages 7 through 19) will be onstage at the Trustees Theatre with Situations: The Trials and Tribulations of Youth, a multi–discipline production based around 16 of William Shakespeare’s 154 known sonnets.
It’s Green’s second major directorial effort since climbing aboard the AWOL express. “One thing that’s in the show is showing how music and poetry move people, how music tells a story, how it moves and motivates your life,” says Green. “There’s singing, there’s rapping, there’s dancing. It’s lots of fun. I call it an emotional roller coaster.”
Using the sonnets as a foundation, Green – and the performers themselves – created a series of “life situations,” taking place in a counseling center. “The kids wanted to affectionately name the center AWOL,” Green laughs.
“It’s about how everyone has a situation, and how everyone has to deal with it, regardless of what background you come from.”
Founded in 2004 by former probation officer Tony Jordan, AWOL’s mission is to “promote and provide self–awareness through the use of poetry, hip hop and life.”
Among its offerings are a monthly open–mic poetry night, film and video classes, music education courses (with a fully–equipped recording studio), information technology – and conflict resolution workshops.
The students come, literally, from all walks of life.
“Some of our students are referred to us by the Department of Juvenile Justice and Chatham County youth facilities,” Green says, “and some of them are put on probation – so instead of locking these kids up because it costs the taxpayers way more money, put them in AWOL and let’s work on some prevention methods as well as conflict resolution.
“And then we have some kids that just want to be a part of a program such as the arts and technology. So you have a mixture, a wide range of kids.”
Kids audition for the annual theatre production, and before they’re even permitted to look at a script, Green puts them through rigorous preparatory training. “It’s very hard work,” she says, “and that’s one of the things that I push. It is a discipline; that’s why I love theatre. And they get a lot of discipline.
“I tell them, it’s not just a program where you can drop in, come when you want to come ... ‘OK, I’m gonna get onstage!’ They truly go through the process, with classes, with the choreographers, with acting, with the vocal coach, with voice and diction.
“They go through theatre history as well. They are taught William Shakespeare, who he is and why he’s relevant today. They learn all that process so they can understand how it’s all connected.”
The road to creative self–esteem often takes a hard–learning curve for children of lower income families. Part of the journey, Green stresses, is making sure parents are involved. “I tell the parents in the parent meeting, it takes commitment from the parent and the child,” she says. “That’s one of the things I feel we really push home: We don’t just deal with the child, we deal with people’s families. And it’s teaching adults about responsibility.”
DaVena Jordan, AWOL’s executive director, says that when she and Tony (her husband) hired Green in 2008, they told her “You’re going to be balancing social problems, along with making this high–quality art. And that’s not something that everybody can do.”
Green, with degrees in Theatre Arts and Media and Performing Arts from Alabama State University and SCAD, respectively, understood immediately.
“We knew that when God sent us somebody, they were going to have to be really talented,” Jordan says. “I really needed someone that was a firm hand. She’s a great disciplinarian and she runs a tight ship.
“Sometimes you hear about teachers saying they can’t control their class of 30 children. Well, Kesha normally has 60 or 70 kids at a time in a gymnasium, all running around. And if you ever see her in action ... she doesn’t play the music with ‘em. When she says move, they move.”
According to Jordan, Green’s involvement took AWOL’s already–innovative theatre curriculum and made it better. “She came in right on time, if you ask me,” Jordan enthuses. “She got in on time to make things exactly the way we wanted them to be.
“Because the vision was that it would be a higher quality theatre arts program. I’m going to toot my own horn a little bit and say it’s probably one of the best in Savannah.”
Part of the magic, Jordan adds, is Green’s tireless dedication to the creative process. “Kesha is a theatre maniac,” she laughs.
There are 46 young performers in Situations. “They truly look forward to doing the show,” says Green. “They look forward to what they can create and put into the show.
“A lot of these kids that we work with, they and their families have never even been to the Trustees Theatre. Or even heard of it.
“That says a lot as to where we are in the community, and what we need to do with it. So it’s a big educational piece that we do, that’s more than just a show. It’s really about educating a community, and bringing them to something they’ve never been introduced to.”
Situations: The Trials and Tribulations of Youth
Where: Trustees Theatre, 216 E. Broughton St.
When: At 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 12
Tickets: $20 at (912) 525–5050 or savannahboxoffice.com