A MESSAGE FROM OUTGOING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MELISSA DENTON

Dear Unusual Suspects Community,

 

There is a proverb that says, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." The truth of this proverb has resonated with me throughout my 15-year tenure at The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company. From the moment I had the good fortune to attend my first USTC play, Burning Water in 2006 through my involvement as a Teaching Artist, Program Director and Executive Director, I have had the unique honor to grow alongside the organization’s mission to mentor, educate, and enrich youth in under-resourced communities through the creation of collaborative, original theatre. Not only has our mission positively impacted thousands of young people throughout Los Angeles County for nearly 30 years, it has given me the opportunity to learn from their stories.

 

I will be stepping down as Executive Director of The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company effective today and move into a consulting role until the end of February to support a smooth transition. I leave with deep gratitude.

 

The best part of my time with The Unusual Suspects was the joy of working with an amazing group of exceptionally talented, creative and dynamic artists, educators, mentors, and board members. To all my immediate colleagues who work within the arts and social justice space, I cannot thank you enough for your dedication and commitment to this work, and for making such a success of it all, through both abundant and challenging times. And I will forever be indebted to the support of our donors, friends, and stakeholders who have walked with us on this path. Your commitment to our mission is sincerely appreciated.

 

I leave with boundless pride at our accomplishments, across all our activities, but particularly our success in developing seven ongoing program models over the past decade, more than doubling our budget and staff size, tripling our number of annual participants, and co-founding the Arts for Healing and Justice Network.

 

The moments that I will most remember are the times I participated in the play creation process with our youth participants, Teaching Artists, and Volunteer Mentors. It’s there I witnessed shy young artists begin a theatre workshop with their hands covering their smiles, barely speaking over a whisper and after ten weeks having the confidence to project their voices across the auditorium, reaching their families in the back row. I heard a young father find the words to express his love for his gay daughter after watching her performance in the play, Love Has No Gender. I watched Teaching Artists create a space of trust and safety to allow system-involved youth the opportunity to peel away their protective armor and acknowledge their inner strength and inherent gifts.

 

I’m reminded every day that burgeoning young artists are among us throughout the diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles ready to find their role in our city’s story. But some youth are still closed behind locked facility doors or isolated in neighborhoods that have limited access to resources and support. The Unusual Suspects will stay focused on bridging those obstacles by reaching in with quality theatre arts mentorship and elevating diverse voices.

 

The road ahead for The Unusual Suspects is bright. We will continue to innovate our programs to best serve our young people and invest in access to arts education programs for all, where each child has the tools and support they need to fully meet their potential to become the next community advocate, designer, entrepreneur, or even Executive Director for USTC! Our communities are stronger when all voices are heard and respected.

 

I’m personally looking forward to a sabbatical for a few months to spend time with my 96-year old mother, travel, and cultivate my next act. I leave with full confidence that The Unusual Suspects is transitioning into good hands with Interim Executive Director, Joel Arquillos. Joel spent 13 years as Executive Director of 826LA, a non-profit writing and tutoring organization that serves youth ages 6-18. His thoughtful leadership will provide continuity and lay a foundation for the future Executive Director.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company. I'm excited for the future of the organization and will continue to support the work as an audience member, volunteer, and donor!