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Healing Acts

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It took a court jester, and finally a mermaid, just to get the boy into the room, so Bobbie Shaw Chance knew he was going to be a tough customer.

“He was very sad and closed off from everything,” said Chance, who opened up her acting studio on Ventura Boulevard to 60 children from Free Arts for Abused Children.

But two hours after being coaxed from the outside railing and exposed to storytelling, improvisational acting, games, music and dancing, there was a subtle change.

“He looked at me and gave me the slightest bit of a smile,” said Chance, who had been an actress in 1960s beach party movies and is now a theater director and runs an acting workshop. “I knew it could work and we could reach these kids.”

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William Burton, a counselor for Children Are Our Future, realized that the half a dozen boys, ages 9 to 12, he had brought with him from a group home in Altadena were very different after the show.

“This helps,” Burton said. “This is live entertainment, interactive, which in some ways improves their social skills.”

Throughout the show, actors in Chance’s workshop studio pull the children up onto the small performance stage to make them part of the story, or to join in dance circles, conga lines or experiments in bubble-making. Gradually, huddled shoulders and guarded expressions turn to smiles and laughter.

Free Arts for Abused Children is a West Los Angeles area group that uses art as a healing therapy for children to work out their painful experiences. Chance has been opening her studio every three or four months for these special Sunday afternoon performances.

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“My goal is to bring in the Hollywood community,” Chance said. She would like to see more acting studios open their doors for abused children, and get big stars to join the performances. “How do you think they would respond if the people they see in the movies or TV were in here?” Chance said. “Those are the guys they look up to.”

They are a unique audience, said Yvonne Perez-Woloski, a children’s entertainer from North Hollywood who brought the many costumes--prince and princess, court jester, mermaid and pirates--for the performance.

“Sometimes going to parties in Beverly Hills, those kids have seen everything,” Perez-Woloski said. “They’re kind of cynical. But these kids aren’t. It’s a very open and perceptive audience.”


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