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7 Questions – Buzz Mauro & Deb Gottesman (Theatre Lab)

Today, we are welcoming not one … but two non-profit leaders to “7 Questions.” Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman are co-directors of The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, which serves hundreds of youth and adults through its Life Stories program, and hundreds more through classes and summer camps in acting, directing, playwriting, and musical theatre .

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are about to embark on a project that is one of our “big dreams:” a theatre and documentary film project by and about the participants in our Life Stories program for homeless women residing in N Street Village’s Recovery Housing Unit. Life Stories is our signature outreach program which trains people from typically marginalized populations to create original dramatic works based on their real-life experiences. We work with incarcerated and severely at-risk youth, seniors, critically ill children and their families, as well as with formerly homeless women. And we now feel that it’s time to share the work of the women from N Street on a larger stage. The monologues, scenes, poetry, and more that these women have created are so powerful and so well-acted that we want to make sure their voices are heard — not only by social justice activists, but also by people who love great theatre.

This time we are pairing our N Street participants with a Helen Hayes Award-winning playwright who will help them structure their work for a final performance that will take place at The Kennedy Center in the spring. The process and performance will also be the subject of a major documentary from producers whose last film was featured at Sundance. So the stars have really aligned to make all of this possible for us and for the incredible women we are working with. The Theatre Lab’s mission is to transform lives through theatre education, and we are consistently reminded of the value of this mission when we witness the work of women who are so actively engaged in transforming their own narratives. We?ll report back once the filming has begun!

2. What else are you up to?

We’re deep into preparations for our annual Cabaret Benefit (November 7), at which we?ll showcase some of the most memorable work of our students from the last year. Our 2011 Honors Acting Conservatory — our year-long professional actor training program — is drawing to a close, which means the ten students will soon be doing their final showcase for area casting directors, and we’re just beginning auditions for the class of 2012. Planning is underway for the full curriculum for 2012, of course — a year in which we expect to once again provide more than $65,000 in need-based scholarships to classes and summer camps, in addition to continuing our free Life Stories outreach programs. Adult classes through June are almost finalized, and we’re already working on the details of next summer’s programs for kids and teens.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

When we graduated together from Catholic University’s MFA program in Acting, our friendship turned into the beginnings of The Theatre Lab. (Deb says Buzz inspired her. Buzz says Deb inspired him.)

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

Gilbert and Jaylee Mead. Their tireless and selfless support of the arts made Washington the thriving performing arts center it is today.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

Making sure that what we offer students — at all levels and from all walks of life — is really meeting their artistic and educational needs. As our scope has widened, this mandate has become increasingly complex. We’re constantly challenged to bring the best artistic training to our “outreach” programs and the best real-life values to our training of professional actors.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

Care more about what your students need to hear than about what you want to tell them. Give of yourself freely and more will come back to you than you ever thought possible.

7. What’s next?

We have big plans for our 20th anniversary in 2012, including, in addition to the exciting Life Stories documentary at N Street Village and the Kennedy Center, a series of master classes with visiting celebrities, a massive student reunion party, and a special anniversary blowout gala at the Mayflower Hotel. We hope lots of members of Washington’s non-profit community will join us for the celebrations!

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