On November 3, Tina Knowles-Lawson and Richard Lawson opened their new theater, WACO (W)here (A)rt (C)an (O)ccur Theater Center in North Hollywood. Here, they share details on both their new space and their organization, as well as why it’s so important for youth to learn about the arts.
Tell us about WACO Theater. How is the space being used and what is your mission with this project? RICHARD LAWSON: WACO was created out of our mutual interest to create a place where we could create a life of art. Tina was living in Houston and was in the early stages of beginning to set up a location in Houston to provide resources to artists including paint, brushes, and a performance space. I have been a teacher for over 35 years and have been a part of an educational process of empowerment. One day I was in Houston and I was talking with Tina and I said, “One must always have a place where art can occur." Separately we have been doing this all of our lives and now we’re able to serve others together. This is a natural symbiosis where we can come together in a real way to make things happen.
Why did you choose North Hollywood for the location of WACO Theater? TINA KNOWLES-LAWSON: North Hollywood is the new hub for theater community in Los Angeles, as there are 28 theaters in one square mile! This community is filled with art lovers, performers, and visual performers. It’s just an amazing hub with energy and we feel right at home.
RL: I don’t think we could have picked a better location anywhere in the country. This is probably the best place where this kind of multi-dimensional space could exist.
You have Tina’s Angels and Richard’s Warriors, how have these kids already begun to make an impact on your life? TKL: They make an impact on my life everyday. They bring me so much joy because I see the transformation of these young girls. It’s been a lifetime dream for me to mentor young girls - I mean I’ve been doing it my entire life, but to have an organization specifically for girls is very special. When I first met with my girls, there were a few who couldn’t even look me in the eye. Now their confidence is through the roof, their grades are rising, and I see them transforming right before my eyes.
RL: Like Tina said, we’ve always been caretakers, helping so many young people throughout the years. I’ve worked with several young artists over years with Richard Lawson Studios, actors and actresses. To witness them go on to book roles on broadcast and cable networks is amazing to me. Specifically of Richard’s Warriors, it has been wonderful to see the transition of the young men, to see how far we’ve come since day one. At first they were a little all over the place, a short attention span, but now we’ve provided them with alternatives to better their lives. The boys now shake my hand with confidence and I can feel their energy, and now they have an idea of who they want to be as men. I can literally see the trajectory of their lives if mentorship continues, as it will make a difference.
What kinds of skills are you hoping WACO is going to provide to them? TKL: Ultimately we want to shape their worldview by providing them with experiences to visit Alvin Ailey, museums, and theater. I require my girls to write a report of their experiences about their visits. How it makes them feel and what they have learned. We read books that ignite our imaginations and come together to discuss it critically. I believe these visits really build their confidence so that when they go on to apply for jobs or scholarships, they feel confident and well rounded.
Why do you think it’s important for youth to learn about the arts and self-expression and discovery? TKL: Art is about expression, self examination, and having a viewpoint. It’s about learning to communicate in a genuine way and not be influenced by peer pressure. In high school the peer pressure is so strong. I feel that we have the perfect age of teenagers in the Angels and Warriors. With regards to STEM, art truly makes better engineers, creatives, and scientists because it opens a student's mind and completes the development of the human being.
RL: It is exciting to witness the growth of the human being—expansion, confidence, walking a little taller, looking people in the eyes, liking who they are, and loving who they are. That’s what I love. That people can look you in the eye and say what’s on their mind. Attitude monitors power and you can learn that through art.
What's next for 2018? TL: To expand our outreach programs, Tina’s Angels and Richard Warriors, and launch the mobile theater. We want to continue to be a place where people can come and feel supported. We are excited to launch a family movie night in our theater. We’re going to have a free movie night where we will provide refreshments to encourage family time and expand on our programs of enriching the community. We want to give families an opportunity to spend quality time together.
We want to continue to build on our initiatives and community programs. We also encourage others to do the same thing. Just remember that you can start small—It doesn’t have to be big. Our cleaning supplies drive started with a simple idea because we heard a Houston resident had been cleaning her home with soap and water post hurricane. One person had an idea and ultimately created a movement. Since we announced that we launched our cleaning supplies drive, Matthew 25 expressed interest in helping and sent nine tractor trailers filled with cleaning supplies to Houston, and it’s just the beginning. One idea started a movement.