REPORTING FROM THE FIELD: The launch of the Outreach Division at Twin Towers Correctional Facility
On Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Director of Outreach Tommy Demenkoff, a veteran of the Los Angeles stage (Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit at The Mark Taper Forum and others) and of non-traditional theater making, entered Twin Towers Correctional Facility with a team of actors. Demenkoff has successfully led similar programs for the Stella Adler Outreach Division at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City. Based on that success, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Five Keys Charter School reached out to him to ask if the Outreach Division would deliver a pilot project to serve adult women at Twin Towers, the world’s largest jail as well as the nation’s largest mental health facility.
Demenkoff and his team including his assistant Susan PetchEam and Art of Acting Studio alumni volunteers Neyssan Falahi (Adler in LA) and Tinkabell Lovelace (Adler in LA) got right to work. For three days they worked intensively with twenty-two women inmates. Each day began with an actor’s workout including voice and speech exercises and improvisation games. Then the ensemble wrote several new short plays and monologues, inspired by social themes they felt passionate about, like homelessness and societal indifference to others pain. They finished each day with a rehearsal of the pieces they had written.
On the third and final day, the ladies performed the work generated for an audience of close to 60 inmates, officers and education professionals. Their work was raw, honest, filled with humor and an abundance of joy and innocence. Artistic Director Tom Oppenheim announced that AOA would launch OutSideIN beginning in September 2015. Modeled after a program of the same name in New York, OutSideIN will provide a free monthly class for inmates once they are released from Twin Towers.
The women testified to the power of the work:
After 6 months of being sober, I laughed again for the first time.
It brings out communication in us, something positive.
Reminded me of what kind of girl I was before jail.
Dr. Yael Hellman and Noel Scott of Five Keys Charter School facilitated the three-day residency. The Outreach team also encountered many amazing corrections officers from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who instantly recognized the value of this partnership and who displayed such incredible professionalism, grace and generosity in guiding the work of the artists from the Outreach Division within such a challenging environment.