Meet USTC’s New Grant Writer, Shannon Effinger!

Selfie of Shannon EffingerGet to know Shannon Effinger, our new grant writer supporting our Development team! 

Shannon J. Effinger (Shannon Ali) has been a freelance arts journalist for more than a decade. Her writing on all things music regularly appears in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Village Voice, Bandcamp, Pitchfork, Downbeat, and NPR Music. 

For the past eight years, she has worked as a grant writer (consultant and staff roles) for several artists, musicians, and nonprofits (cultural institutions, arts education, youth development organizations) throughout New York City and nationwide. To date, Shannon has successfully raised over $5 million to help further arts, cultural, and youth programming citywide, including multidisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers’ debut solo exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

In 2020, she made her cinematic debut as a featured critic in the documentary Universe, the rediscovered orchestral suite by Wayne Shorter, written more than 50 years ago for Miles Davis and left unrecorded and largely untouched until it was revisited by Davis’ protégé, the late trumpeter Wallace Roney. A native Brooklynite, Shannon currently lives on the Upper West Side.

Muse TV Spreads the Word about the Create-A-Thon!

The goal of the event is to inspire creating and sharing at home while raising funds to maintain and expand its critical theatre-arts programming for underserved youth and families, including incarcerated youth. The mission of The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company is “to mentor, educate, and enrich underserved youth through the creation of collaborative, original theatre.”


ABC Features the UnUSual Create-A-Thon!

Actress & Create-A-Thon Host Melissa Peterman & US Executive Director Melissa Denton featured on ABC!

The Virtually UnUSual Create-A-Thon is a multi-week, marathon inspired digital fundraising campaign driven by our mission to mentor, educate and enrich underserved youth through the creation of collaborative, original theatre. Every dollar raised goes towards our virtual programs that reveal the power of our theatre-based programs to heal, educate and enrich those we serve.


The Unusual Suspects Goes Virtual

Although we can no longer convene our theatre-arts education and mentorship workshops in person due to the pandemic, we have continued to support LA’s underserved and incarcerated youth by quickly transitioning to digital operations and ensuring online access to programming.  Last March, US staff quickly shifted internal, organizational operations into a remote setting. And, since then, staff has been working around the clock to successfully transition US programming to a virtual environment.
Here are just a few highlights:
  • US Launches the Alumni Program: As part of our Alumni Program, we had the honor of launching our new Alumni Program Theatre Residency, where alumni came together to write and perform their own original play. This past summer, our alumni presented their first original play, The Family Tree. You can watch The Family Tree HERE!
  • Our Inaugural Green Room Series has Kicked Off: The Green Room Series consists of twice a month masterclasses, panels, and other opportunities that aim to connect our alumni with working artists and industry executives to help develop their creative tools and connect them with professional opportunities. We have had amazing creative professionals and executives come in to speak to our youth such as Jaime Camil, Maile Flanagan, David Castañeda, executives from Paramount and NBC-Universal, and we can’t wait to see who will be joining US next.
  • Virtual Neighborhood Voices Program: Our FREE bilingual family drama program held workshops every Monday & Wednesday where participants created an original play, engaged in fun theater games, and connected with friends. Stay tuned for a link to their performance!
  • Los Angeles Co. Probation Department’s Dorothy Kirby Center: Incarcerated youth participants connected with US virtually as part of our Youth Theatre Residency Program. Watch their original play We Are All Stars here!
  • Los Angeles Co. Probation Department’s Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Camp Joseph Paige: Incarcerated youth participants connected with US virtually as part of our Voices from Inside writing and performance program in partnership with the Arts for Healing and Justive Network.
  • Content Library: We’ve created a library of additional pre-recorded content to deliver to our LAUSD students. Our workshops are currently LIVE on Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School’s website.
  • Virtual Programming for South LA & San Fernando Valley Schools: Our Youth Theatre Residency Program, which is a FREE afterschool drama performance program, will continue to be hosted online twice a week for students at Edison Middle School, Sepulveda Middle School, Markham Middle School, and San Fernando High School.  Participants will socialize with their classmates via fun theatre games, learn performance techniques, and stage their original play. 
    We have also provided recorded lessons for David Starr Jordan High School teachers to use in their Google classrooms through our Voices for Arts and Social Theatre program which helps reduce barriers to classroom participation with universal, non-verbal and visual stories.
  • Virtual Performances: Check out our calendar to see how you can watch a virtual performance!

Check out what some of our participants and Teaching Artists have had to say about our virtual programming.

Watch a Performance!

We Are All Stars, written by incarcerated youth at the Dorothy Kirby Center 

Click Here to watch the Dorothy Kirby Page Play Performance of We are all Stars Online!

We are all Stars synopsis: Jonathan, an artistic dreamer who has a passion for making hip hop beats, finds it difficult to get money and keep a job. His lifelong goal of becoming a music producer feels unobtainable because he can’t afford the beat machine he needs to produce his music. Desperate to get some cash, Jonathan joins his new friend Frankie’s gang in order to sell drugs. After meeting a fellow musician and up-and-coming rapper, Savannah, Jonathan is re-inspired to focus on his love of music. He leaves his gang bangin ways’ behind and starts a full-time music career with his new girlfriend.

The Family Tree, written and performed by youth in our Alumni Program Theatre Residency

Click Here to watch their original play The Family Tree!

The Family Tree synopsis: Across generations, The Family Tree discusses injustice, racial discrimination and self-exploration in vignettes of tough conversations. Grandma Crystal is the center that ties all her adopted children and teenage grandchildren together during a global pandemic in 2020. With a touch of reality, this story encourages deeper conversation and the start of change.  

Behind the Toilet is the Mystery of Chef City, written by youth at Sepulveda Middle School and performed by a professional cast!

Click Here to watch their original play, Behind the Toilet is the Mystery of Chef City

Behind the Toilet is the Mystery of Chef City is an original play written by youth at Sepulveda Middle School and follows a cooking competition like no other. Take a look and see these zany characters face-off and battle to win the Best Chef title over their most delish dish!

Check out the playbill for this hilarious play HERE!

Finding Pandora, written by youth at San Fernando High School and performed by a professional cast!

Click Here to watch their original play, Finding Pandora

Chevie has two big dreams: to open up a restaurant with her best friend Kai, and find a way to resurrect her brother Pandora. They must travel to the underworld and work with Abellonia, Goddess of the Dead, to try to solve their problems, but will they make it in time? This touching, and sometimes hilarious play reflects on the importance of family while posing the question: What would you be willing to sacrifice to save the world? 

Check out the playbill HERE!

The Magic Life: The Adventure of Three Wizards in the Time of Corona, written by youth at Markham Middle School and performed by a professional cast!

Click Here to watch their original play, The Magic Life: The Adventure of Three Wizards in the Time of Corona

The Magic Life: The Adventure of Three Wizards in the Time of Corona follows siblings Katie and Jacob in a parallel Universe during the Coronavirus pandemic. Their magical powers are put to the test when they have to heal a hiker, but it’s in an ancient language!

Take a look at the playbill HERE!

Fighting for Our Golden Dreams, written by our youth at Edison Middle School and performed by a professional cast!

Click Here to watch their original play, Fighting for Our Golden Dreams

Fighting for Our Golden Dreams is about three best friends that live in Florida. Ella, who watched her mom pass away from heart complications at a young age, aspires to become a doctor. She and her best friend Priscilla, a sloth that is determined to be the first one of her kind ballerina, work together to realize their dreams. 

Take a look at the playbill HERE!

A Note of Gratitude: What One Family Had to Say About Their Virtual Neighborhood Voices Experience.

Through our Neighborhood Voices program, we not only serve youth participants but their families and community, offering them a safe space for expression and growth. Logan, Bowen, and Ethan were able to join US virtually and were star performers while also developing lifelong skills such as responsibility, confidence, and communication and interpersonal skills and made grandma proud. Here is what their mom Isis had to say. 

I want to express my sincere thanks, gratitude and appreciation for all your staff in creating the ensemble “Project: All For Humanity.”  The truth is my husband and I really thought it was like some kind of afterschool evening program but then after the first session Bowen, Ethan, and Logan really got interested.  The energy, excitement, enthusiasm and involvement was fabulous. Despite intense pressure from schoolwork, my other two sons, Bowen and Ethan decided to watch Logan one evening at Pacoima Charter School since we had no babysitters but before we knew it, our entire family was welcomed and encouraged to get involved and participate.  I can tell you it was a bit uncomfortable and intimidating for some of the parents including myself.  He hated to speak, and he did not want anything to do with acting, and look at him now, he was Skipper and he performed very well despite his articulation issues.  

As they progressed, they became more responsible, comfortable, happy, and engaged.  Despite the transition into remote learning due to COVID-19, my kids were always excited to go onto zoom and meet their wonderful teachers Marline and Elaji for three hours every Monday and Wednesday since March 9, 2020.  This was not an easy task, as it involved numerous reminders from you and your staff but the kids were thrilled to be on.  

My family really received a wonder experience and opportunity that your theatre company had offered to us and to our community.  I am a single income earner in my family of 6 and I provide care for my elderly mother-in-law who is 87 years old and we are always bombarded by trauma that we normalize into our daily lives.  In trying to do better, I am currently pushing myself to complete my masters degree, so I can get full time benefits at my job.  Being in “Stay at home Order” is kind of like the many lockdowns I experience at schools.  Who knew that my kids, Bowen, Ethan, and Logan were so loved, accepted, and included every step of the way in the ensemble.  The kids were able to build those connections with the proper guidance of the Artists and further integrated community issues at hand that were important to the youths, and then they were able to express their struggles, feelings, beliefs in the final production.  It was wonderful because not everyone gets a chance to express himself or herself in an environment that is diverse, inclusive, and safe.  

Thank you so much for all that you have done in bringing our family closer, helping us in the time of adjustment and allowing them an opportunity to grow and develop skills they never knew they had. 

Warmest Regards,

Isis Quan”



The Unusual Suspects Hosts Hollywood Studios for Career Day Events

The Unusual Suspects was proud to host Paramount executives this past January, as part of its annual I Have A Dream Day event, at David Starr Jordan High School.  The following month, The Unusual Suspects was honored to host NBC-Universal employees at San Fernando High School to talk to our Youth Theatre Residency Program participants about about their career journeys. Click here to read more about these inspirational events.


The Unusual Suspects cited in TIME article

On July 16, The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company was mentioned in TIME as a non-profit allowed to volunteer inside prisons. Julissa discusses the importance of volunteering services inside prisons to help get inmates back on their feet and the difference it can make. Julissa Arce is the author of My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive and Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream.  


Unusual Suspects Students Star in DPW Public Safety Campaign

In partnership with the LA County Department of Public Works, The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company was invited to participate in their public safety campaign warning area youth of the dangers of the Pacoima Wash, a tributary of the Los Angeles River where recent rescues and drownings have alarmed residents and authorities.  Located in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, the Pacoima Wash, has been used by students as a shortcut home from school, but can fill swiftly and instantly become life-threatening.  With running water that can reach speeds of up to 70MPH, six inches of fast moving water can easily knock a person over, and twelve inches can carry a car.  Participating students of the non-profit The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company’s Youth Theatre Residency Program, from San Fernando High School, starred in a 30 second PSA asking fellow students in the San Fernando Valley to Take the Pacoima Wash Pledge:  Turn Around Don’t Drown.  Click HERE to watch the video and share.