It was the performance finale that the adult school acting classmates had longed for.
Performing scenes from 15 different plays, the seniors of the Westchester-Emerson Community Adult School’s commercial acting class demonstrated their acting chops to a packed audience at the Westchester Senior Center Monday, June 15th.
The show “Entertainment Galore” was the official going-out performance for the acting class not just for the season but as part of the Westchester-Emerson Adult School curriculum, as the program has been cut along with others, due to the state’s budget crisis. The senior classmates used their final performance not only to show off the skills they learned in class but to express gratitude for the opportunities that the experience provided them.
“It went like lightning,” Loraine Shields, teacher of the commercial acting class, said of her students’ show. “They came to the place and they put all of their hearts into it. It was very life fulfilling.”
Among the various plays that had scenes acted out by the students were “Plaza Suite” and “Last of the Red Hot” by Neil Simon, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella and “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” by Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna. Playa del Rey residents Maggie and Don Hanson, who performed in “Plaza Suite,” say the production went as they had hoped.
“We had a great time. It was quite a production and we worked really hard on it,” said Maggie Hanson, who has been in the class for two years.
Don Hanson, who has been a class member for five years, added, “It was very emotional because we didn’t know if we were going to see each other again. We wanted to do the very best we could.”
Shields, who has taught the acting class for the past year, and her students have expressed disappointment that the class has become a victim of budget cuts. The class of more than 20 students has been offered through Westchester-Emerson Adult School for ten years.
Another Westchester-Emerson class that has become a victim of the budget axe is the life story writing class taught by Roger Graham. The class of senior writers has published 12 books, including six autobiographies and six group books such as “We Remember World War II” and “We Remember the 1950s,” and Graham admitted that he too was disappointed with the cut.
“I’m a strong supporter of lifelong learning and the seniors in my writing class are writing important life stories,” he said. “I think these adults have worked hard to support education in this state and now the schools are turning them away.”
Ed Morris, Los Angeles Unified School District assistant superintendent of adult education, said as part of the state budget cuts, the Westchester-Emerson Adult School and the Venice Community Adult School will be combined. Westchester-Emerson Principal Pat Colby has planned to retire and two of the school’s assistant principals will also retire.
Venice Adult School Principal Cynthia Tollette will now oversee both schools under the consolidation plan, which will save the district approximately half a million dollars, Morris said. The district has combined eight of its adult schools into four and officials don’t believe the plan will impact school performance, he said.
The district chose to make the cuts after the state cut about 20 percent of its annual $700 million investment into adult education, Morris said.
“The State of California has cut its investment in adult education and it necessitated cuts locally,” he said.
Colby, who is retiring after 40 years in the education field, called the cuts of adult education programs “a terribly unfortunate thing.” She praised the acting and writing classes for helping the students express their creativity.
Shields explained that her class, which began with commercial acting and later taught theater acting, has influenced the seniors to be more active and has allowed them to interact with other interested actors.
“It’s a community they enter, not just a classroom,” she said. “It’s given them a thirst for more knowledge and made them realize they are more active than they thought they were. I think it’s taken them 20 years backward in their lives.”
Graham also referred to the benefits of his writing class, saying it has enabled the seniors to pass on their life stories to younger generations.
“They’re writing for their families, their friends and they’re writing for their community,” he said.
Westchester-Emerson teachers and students hope they can find a way to continue the programs in the community.
“We’re hoping we will find the money to be able to continue with the adult program because it’s really important,” Maggie Hanson said. “It’s a great mind-enhancer for us all and we get hooked into it.”
Graham has shown his determination to keep the writing class alive by planning to continue teaching for free at the Westchester YMCA through January.
“I will not let this great class die,” he said.