What do actors Jason Sudeikis and Adrien Brody, homeless kids and improv have in common? The nonprofit Hollywood Arts which is using a combination of entertainers as mentors, arts-based education and inspiration to rescue some of the 10,000 homeless young people living on the streets of Los Angeles. Many of them have aged out of the foster care system and all have been in the state welfare system, according to Hollywood Arts' Executive Director, Rachel Romanski. The four year old center offers classes in music, performance and visual arts but is not designed to turn students into professional entertainers. Romanski says the goal of the free program is to teach them "transferable skills such as listening, collaborating, conflict resolution, being accountable and not feeling invisible."
Romanski is former director of the Second City Training Center and many of Hollywood Arts' teachers have backgrounds in improvisational theater. This is not coincidental. Romanski points to Viola Spolin, a social worker and widely acknowledged grandmother of improvisational theater who developed games that focused on creativity to unlock an individual's capacity for creative self-expression. "We are thrilled to take the journey of improvisation back to its roots here," says Rachel Romanski. While students - who are mostly ages 18 -24 - can earn their GEDs and even obtain internships and jobs through the program, Romanski says the arts-based curriculum helps students whose defenses are already well established. "We help them become comfortable with saying what's on their minds. We help them find a way to say yes, to keep a conversation going even if they don't totally agree with what others are saying. We teach them to support others, to give and take and trust."
Scott Adsit from 30 Rock is a supporter of Hollywood Arts, and says, "The rules of Improvisation apply beautifully to life. Never say no - you have to be interested to be interesting, and your job is to support your partners." In the process of studying at Hollywood Arts, many of the 150 students annually find internships, or jobs or a future path. One young man, who everyone calls Q, came to Hollywood from New Jersey several years ago. He slept in a car for a while until he found himself on the doorstep of the center. Today, following an internship arranged through Hollywood Arts, he has a job in the media center at Comcast. Such success stories are not surprising to Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live: "Nobody likes to be underestimated. Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams - to get the education and the guidance that they want and to have a life that they can truly be proud of. Hollywood Arts helps young people who need a little extra support, a little extra guidance in life, and I think that's fantastic."
Other stars from music, film and TV have joined in the effort to help Hollywood Arts raise money and continue to educate Los Angeles' most vulnerable young people. The roster includes Adrien Brody, Jesse McCartney, Monica Raymund and Alan Cumming. Next month, at the organization's third annual Dream Awards, A-list movie stars will mingle with students who - until recently - were sleeping on the streets. Rachel Romanski says that honors will be bestowed on those who have partnered with Hollywood Arts as well as exceptional students. There will be music and speeches and the kind of food that $300 per person buys in Hollywood. But surely the most important commodity will be hope.