How Your Gifts are Making a Difference

Meet Luna… 

Luna acting and singing.Luna


As a young child, Luna had strong reading skills and a creative imagination, but because she was painfully shy, she was often lonely on the playground. In an effort to strengthen her social skills, her parents searched for extracurricular activities for their self-described un-athletic, bookish seven-year-old but found that difficult to find …until they found The Western Stage Young Company.

Here’s how Luna describes it, “The energy in the cabaret building was dynamic. We thought we were just playing, but we were strengthening our communication skills. I was certainly not the only reserved child there, but you would not have been able to tell which of us usually couldn’t make eye contact by looking at the dancing, shouting, laughing children on stage.  I didn’t come home with a shiny new athletic trophy that summer, but I had strength that I didn’t have before; on the first day of school, I was able to greet my new classmates with a smile and a new sense of confidence. The Western Stage has been an integral part of my life ever since.”

The Western Stage is a special and unique place, one that usually exists at the most exclusive of schools. Similar programs are very costly, making a high-level experience out-of-reach for many in our community. Your financial gift is the bedrock upon which our programs, projects, and performances are set and what makes these services available to youth like Luna.

According to Luna, “As many of you know, middle school is an unforgiving place for many adolescents. I was no exception. I had forgotten that I had any talent and value. I was bullied, friendless, depressed, and I’d walk into a room apologizing for my presence. When I heard that Western Stage was holding auditions and needed people my age, I jumped at the opportunity. Once again, I found that this was a place where I could make friends and co-operate to make something wonderful. I also re-discovered that I had something to contribute. There was one rehearsal in particular that I will never forget; I had had a tough day at school and was feeling a little down, but as we rehearsed a musical number one of my cast-mates turned to me and said, “You have a beautiful voice.” I can tell you one thing, if my parents had stuck me in soccer I never would have gotten to hear that. I took choir that next school year, and much like a Little League player who tries out for his school’s baseball team, I found that I was better prepared to learn the music than many of my classmates. For the second time I came out of Western Stage standing taller and looking my peers in the eye.

Luna continued, “At the same time my older brother, who started out equally shy, was enjoying several years of increasingly important and demanding roles beginning in Young Company and continuing into high school. He was a part of the International Thespian Society, and in his senior year of high school he got several lead roles. My brother graduated from UC Berkeley in 2010 with a degree in Public Health. He works at the Public Policy Institute of California now doing statistical analysis and presents his findings to his colleagues without a trace of fear in his voice. Even though he didn’t major in Theatre, Hartnell’s Young Company program helped him come into his own too.”

Luna focused on her studies during high school, but chose to attend Hartnell after graduation so she could continue her education while taking time to figure out where she was headed next. After trying several different endeavors without finding the right fit, Luna decided to return “to the place she always felt welcome” and she enrolled in core Theatre classes and ventured deeper into the art and craft of acting. At the same time, Luna was cast in “Up the Down Staircase”, which featured a large ensemble of developing actors like herself: “Night after night I performed my very own monologue for a full audience; they laughed at the funny parts, and they listened attentively during the sad parts. One of my father’s friends told me after one of the performances that he actually cried when my character attempted suicide. I was shocked that I could move a person like that, and I was so proud of myself. I realized that I had a real passion for theatre, and that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”

TWS receives grants from many Foundations in recognition that our work is vital to the cultural life of our youth and community. Individual donations from Arts Patrons like yourself prove to these Foundations that we have continuing faith and backing from our own community members.  As extraordinary as Luna is, her story is echoed by many other youth who have spent time – long or short – in our programs, and although not everyone coming through our doors chooses a professional life in the Arts, they all find success, friendships, and a sense of self that continue today.  We hope you’ll read some of their quotes below.

“Truly, if every community in the world had a TWS the world would be a better place.” – Jodi Dick Gelbman

“The Western Stage saved my creative life at a time when I didn’t even realize the poor thing was on life support.” – Dan O’Neill

“I can’t think of an institution that has been more instrumental in my growth as a performer or a human being than TWS” – James Farmer

“The Western Stage was the key to my finding direction in my life. – Che Miller

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think the really lucky ones get a theater company.” – Mary Stanford

Your financial gift is the bedrock upon which our programs, projects and performances are set, and with your help, we can continue to have an impact on how our youth find a sense of belonging and the self-confidence to succeed in life.

“I am so grateful for my time at The Western Stage”– Lisa Zambetti

“I credit TWS with who I am today.” – RJ Owens

“I give big props to The Western Stage for pointing me in the right direction.” – Heather McAllister

“I still use my experiences at The Western Stage to my benefit in my work to this day.” – Jerry McAllister

“Lost in High School’s most awkward years, The Western Stage welcomed me with open arms and taught me the confidence, discipline and many of the skills I still use today.” – Lance Black, Academy Award winning Screenwriter

“The creative and industrious tools that the theater gave to me have been at work with all the projects in my life.” – Joshua Alan Dick, Columbia Graduate Student

“The benefits The Western Stage provides its members of all ages continues well beyond the stage.” – Emily Molfino

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the inspiration of the Western Stage. Thank you so much.” – Rick Still

“The Western Stage offered me the safe and challenging environment to spread my wings in my formative years.” – Leo Cortez

“The audiences of Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula are indeed fortunate to have a theatre company of this caliber in their midst!” – Wendy Wisely

“The Western Stage is a blessing.” – Chuck McLane

The Western Stage builds a strong and healthy community by helping our young people work, collaborate, create, express and experience excellence together, and ultimately understand and have compassion for one another throughout their lives.  The Western Stage is a place of transformational programs and performances. It provides a sense of belonging to those in our community who do not feel connected or understood. At The Western Stage, we encourage self-expression and invest in the unique attributes each person brings to the creative process. Every day, we see the life-changing impact of live theatre in students like Luna. With your help, we can continue to have an impact on how our youth find a sense of belonging and the self-confidence to succeed in life.  Thank you for your continued support.