When asked of her motivation for starting The Unusual Suspects, founder Laura Leigh Hughes often tells the story of catching a falling ash in her hand. While this may sound like a metaphor for the spark of social consciousness, for Hughes the translation is literal.
“I remember on April 29th, 1992 when I caught a black ash in my hand that was falling from the sky. It was part of our city, burning to the ground during the uprising.”
“Los Angeles had been torn apart by poverty, racism, violence and a lack of sense of how we are all connected to each other,” says Hughes. “I saved that ash to remind me of the turmoil of those days and made a decision to bring forth something good out of those ashes.”
And that is exactly what she did.
After batting around a few ideas, Hughes finally landed on the idea for The Unusual Suspects. As an actress, Hughes understood the powerful force for positive change that theatre could be. She decided to bring theatre to underserved youth in the Los Angeles area, a population she felt was affected the most by poverty and hopelessness. “Children are cultural informants. I wanted to empower them and give them a voice,” she says.
And so, working out of a tiny closet office in her home near Hancock Park, Hughes rallied fellow actors and industry friends to support the project. In 1993 the company, in collaboration with the Department of Children and Family Services, mounted its first show with youth from foster care and Hughes had a chance to see the impact of theatre on youth first hand. The Unusual Suspects has come a long way since those early days.
“What these kids say through their theatrical work is compelling and powerful. These kids break your heart sometimes. They’ve been through so much.”
An actress for more than 20 years, having acted in dozens of television and film productions including Rizzoli & Isles, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Mentalist and CSI, Laura Leigh served as The Unusual Suspects’ executive director for 10 years. She then moved on to become a board member and served in that capacity for six years. Today, she continues to promote and support The Unusual Suspects as Board Member Emeritus, while she focuses on her acting career and raising her daughter, Maleigha. She graduated from UCLA with a BA degree in Sociology.
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