Leslie Ito, executive director of the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, chats with the students via online link. (Photos courtesy About…Productions)

PASADENA — About…Productions presents a unique online event featuring plays created by educationally underrepresented 9th-graders in the company’s  Young Theaterworks’ Social Justice Residency at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena.

Students conducted interviews with four Greater Pasadena-area community leaders whose work in various social justice movements have inspired the creation of four new plays that will be performed in a virtual concert reading by professional actors, teaching artists, and students.

The concert reading of “Seeds of Resistance,” which will be streamed live via YouTube on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m., will also include a moderated discussion between the audience, the featured community leaders, students, and the teaching artists who mentored the students in the interview and writing process.

The four community leaders are:

Ruben Garfias, Latinx actor, writer, and teaching artist for youth with disabilities;

Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Armenian writer, artist, researcher and associate professor at ArtCenter College of Design who examines the intersection of social justice and technology;

Leslie A. Ito, Japanese American arts executive, currently executive director of the Armory Center for the Arts, and advocate for arts equity and access;

Pablo Miralles, director of the documentary “Can We All Get Along? The Segregation of John Muir High School.”

Garfia says: “How wonderful to know that students from Marshall are taking a keen interest in the work that must be done by taking a peek into the work that has been done.  Add that to the soup made from inquiry, creativity and a dash of artistry and I can already foresee a beautiful work of art in the making.”

Miralles adds, “I truly enjoyed interacting with the students in the program. Their thoughtful questions and comments showed both understanding and inquisitiveness.”

Ito says, “I was honored to be interviewed by the Marshall High Puente students and to be a part of this unique program. They inspired me with their questions and helped me stretch my thinking around social justice.”

Hakopian adds, “This program provides a crucial platform for developing transgenerational conversations around issues of social justice.”

The 10-week Social Justice Residency, led by Mara Palma, is part of About…Productions’ Young Theaterworks program. Palma says, “I am grateful to return to the Social Justice Residency for the second year because I continue to be amazed at the students’ growth after ten weeks collaborating with each other. Students who at first seemed reserved have come to life creating these works of art and will even be stepping up in a big way through public speaking for our ‘Seeds of Resistance’ event.

“The teaching artist team have brought a variety of theatre, improvisation, and devising theatre skills and it has felt truly like a recipe for success. We’re excited to share the students’ work and the stories of the community leaders.”

The teaching artists are Carene Rose Mekertichyan, Robert Paterno, and Tiana Randall-Quant. Palma will moderate the “Seeds of Resistance” livestream, and the teaching artists will also participate.

Students at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena conducted interviews with local leaders for their social justice project.

About…Productions Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director Theresa Chavez explains, “We’re honored to have this powerful group of community leaders interface with our Young Theaterworks’ students. The diversity of their backgrounds and social justice stories are inspiring students to write unique plays that are especially important to present at this time.

“Mara Palma, our teaching artist team is giving the students critical guidance on the interview and playwriting process, and will perform with them in ‘Seeds of Resistance,’ along with other professional actors. Plus, the dialogue between the audience, community leaders, students and teaching artists will provide further insight into these compelling stories and the Social Justice Residency process.“

This event is free and open to the public. Donations are appreciated. Event registration instructions in the EventBrite link here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seeds-of-resistance-2022-registration-465285039077?aff=PressRelease1

About…Productions, now in its 34th year, creates original interdisciplinary theaterworks and educational programs that provoke new perspectives on history, humanity, and culture. The company is dedicated to generating new work through collaboration to create artistic and community dialogue and believes in the power of theater to enlighten audiences, transform youth, and celebrate the lives of elders.

Young Theaterworks programs are generously supported by the California Arts Council, the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division, the Pasadena Arts League, and the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund. Now in its 22nd year, Young Theaterworks serves highest-risk and educationally underrepresented youth in L.A.-area public high schools. 

About Leslie Ito

Ito is executive director of the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, the region’s leading independent institution for contemporary art exhibitions and community arts education. The Armory’s mission is to build on the power of art to transform lives and communities through creating, teaching, and presenting the arts.

Ito is highly regarded as one of the most skillful, entrepreneurial arts executives in the Los Angeles region with over 20 years of proven leadership and fundraising expertise to her credit. Her reputation for cultural “bridge-building” and advocacy underscores her deep commitment to arts equity and access for all people.

Prior to this position, she was the president and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the U.S. She has also held the position of program director for arts and health at the California Community Foundation, and director of grant programs at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

She has served as executive director of Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian American media arts organization, and as program associate in the Media, Arts Culture Division at the Ford Foundation in New York.

Ito currently serves as a community trustee for the Durfee Foundation. She served on the Board of Directors for Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, Little Tokyo Community Council, Americans for the Arts, TELIC Arts Exchange in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Films by Youth Inside (FYI Films), inspiring incarcerated youth through filmmaking. She is also a co-founder of the L.A. Asian American and Pacific Islander Giving Circle.

In 2016, Ito was awarded the prestigious Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation focusing on how community-based, ethnic specific organizations can reinvent themselves for a new generation in a changing social context and evolving cultural ecology. She was appointed by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a member of the Japan House, Los Angeles Steering Committee. Ito was also part of the 2017 Japanese American Leadership Delegation through the U.S.-Japan Council.

In 2019, she and her husband, artist/curator Steven Y. Wong, received the Cultural Leadership Award from the Vincent Price Art Museum.

A native of Pasadena and a Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), Ito attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business’ Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders. She received her MA in Asian American studies from UCLA and her BA in American Studies from Mount Holyoke College. Ito and Wong have two teens and a timid doberman and live in South Pasadena.

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