From a New York Times feature, September 18, 1994
A dozen children and teen-agers are sitting on the floor of Lola Loui’s tiny acting studio on East 233d Street, and Ms. Loui is teaching them how to depict emotions. Tonight, the emotion is sadness.
“Think about something sad that might have happened to you,” she says. “I want you to go deep inside and come back with something.”
A young man speaks of helplessness after his grandmother’s death. Then a fresh-faced, 11-year-old girl begins, falters and describes picking up a phone and learning that her brother had been killed in a neighborhood fight. A classmate holds Michelle Rosario as she finishes the story. Another weeps. “I knew that’s what she was going to say,” Rouchelle Allen, 13, says later. “I was with her when she got the call.”
Things are like that at the Creative and Performing Arts Studio, whose founder, Lola Loui, an actress, dancer, pianist and teacher, is spiritual mother to scores of youths in Wakefield and its environs. In a single-family house where she lives alone on the top floor, Ms. Loui charges $150 a semester to about 110 students, ostensibly to study the performing arts but, maybe more significantly, to learn hard work, discipline and the capacity to dream.
These days, the student drawing the most attention is Sean Nelson, the star of “Fresh,” a much praised film about a young drug dealer. Mr. Nelson, who has just enrolled at Professional Peforming Arts School in Manhattan, says he will continue to come here Saturdays for Ms. Loui’s acting and spiritual lessons.
Ms. Loui left Trinidad and Tobago for New York at 22, initially concentrating on piano at Juilliard but switching soon to acting. After studying under Stella Adler, Ms. Loui performed in several Off Broadway plays.
But a decade ago, she felt a need to teach, she says, and began giving lessons in her Wakefield apartment. The teaching eventually consumed most of her time, and she lost touch with some of the performing world. “People said she was lost up in the Bronx with a group of kids,” she says. “I would try to fight it and try to go back to acting. But I have work here to do.”
So far, Ms. Loui has refrained from applying for grants — though the studio verges on insolvency — preferring to remain independent.
The students break up into three lines and, swaying and clapping, sing, “We can be anything we want to be. It’s the birth of a brand new day.” Leading a mock protest, she intones: “What do we want?”
“What do we want?”
“End to police brutality.”
After the acting and voice lessons, the group begins a discussion. This week, the topic is urban violence. And Ms. Loui guides the conversation, asking questions that widen the scope of the talk.
Above all, what Ms. Loui says, she hopes to instill in her students are skills and enthusiasm and not just for acting. Although several students besides Mr. Nelson have succeeded in the performing arts, many more in the current group said they hoped to become neurosurgeons, lawyers, entrepreneurs or journalists.
At the end of the evening, as is the custom, the students stood in two facing lines. They bowed, once, twice, and then to the teacher. It was the last, silent lesson: respect. NORIMITSU ONISHI
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