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MID-WILSHIRE : Reliving Reality at Acting Workshop

June 13, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

Almost two years ago, Angel Zabala watched in horror as his friend killed himself while playing Russian roulette. The 15-year-old kept his grief inside until a few months ago when he relived the moment as an actor.

As a member of an acting workshop that draws on the lives of its young participants, Zabala re-created the scene in a play presented for the first time last week at a youth retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains. But when Zabala told the story during rehearsal to his fellow actors, he cried. "As we go along, it's easier for me to cope with it," Zabala said.

Diane Salinger, founder of the "Time to Act" workshop, said acting can be therapeutic. "With every role you play you get a chance to heal yourself," said Salinger, who is also an actress. "That's how I'm approaching the work with this group."

The workshop has attracted about 45 young people from throughout the county. Salinger got the idea after watching skits by young people, including many at-risk youths, at the "Come Together" youth retreat and open forum sponsored by the county Probation Office.

"When they stood up and told their own stories they could put their pain down instead of carrying it like a refrigerator on their backs," Salinger said.

She organized her own acting workshop, calling on friends in television, film and the theater. The first meeting with the kids was in January.

The aim of the workshop is "to train kids so they have marketable skills they can use to enter the (entertainment) industry," Salinger said.

With the help of the professionals who volunteer, the youths learn about acting, writing, camera work, lighting, makeup and other technical, behind-the-scenes skills. Though Salinger tries to give the youths "a realistic sense of how hard it is to make it" in the entertainment industry, she admires their "strength and willingness to dare."

Many, like former gang member Annette Rojas, 19, have begun to turn themselves around. With Salinger's encouragement, Rojas left that life behind.

"I wanted something different," Rojas said. "I wanted to be a person in society that people won't point a finger at and say 'She's a vandal.' I'm not. It's in the past. I learned a lot. Now I want to make my dad and mom proud."

Others have similar stories.

As James Houston, 18, talks about the character he portrays in the group's play, a young man involved in a gang shooting, he admits: "I'm basically playing myself."

But Houston said he no longer belongs to a gang: "It wasn't worth it and I'm happy I don't have all those problems anymore."

Zabala, who said he was never in a gang, said the workshop gives participants a chance to reject roles and behavior they might have once thought of as inevitable. "Here we don't have to put on our street masks," he said.

Until last month, the group had been rehearsing at a Mid-Wilshire church. But the church needed the space for other activities, so Salinger found a temporary site in East Los Angeles. The group is looking for a new practice space in the Mid-Wilshire area, funding (current sources include garage sales and car washes) and transportation.

Information: (213) 990-1894 (pager).

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