Curating Curiosity: an interview with Skirball Cultural Center curator Vicki Phung


Museums are so much more than noiseless halls filled with old, boring paintings. The Skirball Cultural Center has been proving this true for nearly 30 years. From their interactive, all-ages, recycled materials in their Noah’s Ark permanent exhibition, to one of their latest exhibitions,The American Library, I have always loved the Skirball for having fun, unique exhibits that are as whimsical as they are educational.

The first Skirball exhibit I remember going to was a Harry Houdini exhibit. I couldn’t have been older than 6 years old, but I was already enchanted with the grainy black-and-white footage of Houdini in a straitjacket, the life-size replica of his last diving tank, and the colorful old posters that brought this long-dead magician to life. For the next ten years, my family and I would go to the Skirball countless times, exploring and experiencing exhibits ranging from Simon and Garfunkel to Star Trek. Every visit I would learn something new about a figure or movement in history I loved.

Then, when I read about one of the most recent exhibits at the Skirball, The American Library, I knew I had to talk to the curator of the exhibit, Vicki Phung Smith. The first thing that caught my eye about the exhibit was the fact that it was styled like a library — I love books and am a huge supporter of public libraries! The second was that it featured a combination of physical and digital mediums, making it accessible and current. The third was that the artist was Yinka Shonibare, an artist whom my AP Art History class covered extensively, particularly his shocking and referential installation The Swing (After Fragonard). This artist — and his latest exhibit — is very relevant to my life as a student, art appreciator, and someone whose family is the result of many migration stories. I felt drawn to the installation and to its curator, so I sat down with her to learn about Smith’s experiences curating The American Library, and the magical world of museum curation as a whole.

Cyrus: Hi, Vicki. Do you want to start by telling me a little bit about your background and experience with the Skirball?

Vicki: So I've been an associate curator at the Skirball for a year now. I have been working in contemporary art and the art scene in LA for over 15 years. Prior to the Skirball, I worked at other contemporary art galleries in LA. My background and study was to be a studio artist. From a very young age, I was like I'm going to be an artist. And then, after I went to school, I realized that there were things about it, in terms of my temperament and personality, that made me very unhappy. So I pivoted to working with artists and curating as a way that I can still be creative and be surrounded by art. And it was just a much more healthy and happy experience for me. I started my career at contemporary art galleries, and the Skirball is the first nonprofit institution that I worked at. That was a big shift and change. One of the early things the museum director said to me is, ‘your background is contemporary art, but just so you know, the Skirball is not a contemporary art museum. We're a cultural center.’ It’s a broader audience. So I think that was something I was thinking a lot about when curating the show.

Cyrus: I love getting that background on like the differences between working for a museum and curating private collections. That's really cool. So you lead the guided tours for the American Library at the Skirball. What do you love most about leading tours? And what's also challenging about them?

Vicki: Contemporary art is all about keeping up to date. It’s weird to say, ‘oh, I’m a scholar of contemporary art’ like you would for a time period. With, say, post-World War II or 1960s performance art, you can study and research and go into depth. You go into a tour knowing the most on that subject and you’re teaching people. What I love about contemporary art and giving tours for The American Library is that it’s a conversation. I love the way Yinka Shonibare framed it as a library, with 6,000 books. It speaks to this idea that the story of the United States is not one story; there's many stories and not one story is more important than the other. I always learn something new every time I give a tour. I love hearing people’s responses and what they share with me.

Cyrus: The main themes of the American Library exhibit are immigration and diversity. Yet some of the names in the book are people who are anti-immigration. How do you think this contributes to the overall message of the exhibit?

Vicki: I think it’s one of the most evocative, almost punk-rock things that Shonibare does. I think it's really wonderful that alongside first and second generation U.S. immigrants who have made notable contributions to American life and culture, he also presents figures throughout American history that have opposed immigration. This speaks to the nuance and complexity of the ongoing debate. The fascinating thing is, many of these people against immigration are second- or third-generation immigrants. Trump is in the exhibit because his mother was from the UK. It’s great that Shonibare is showing the array of perspectives.

Cyrus: Like many of the Skirball's exhibits, American Library offers digital learning opportunities. What do you like about combining digital museums with traditional museum experiences? And what would you say to people that don't like digital museum installations?

Vicki: Digital options in museums are really important. You have to keep up with the times and present to visitors in ways they’re familiar with, because that’s how you engage the audience. The artist created a website in tandem with the exhibit, where you’ll see names you recognize like Selene Gomez. It’s a digital catalog of all the names in the exhibit at the Skirball. There’s another really cool part of the website called Your Stories, which has an option to share how your family immigrated to the United States, or maybe migrated within the States. It makes the exhibit this ongoing thing -- history is still being written. A lot of our visitors at the Skirball are families with young kids going to see the Noah’s Ark exhibit, so the digital screens are more accessible to them. That doesn’t mean we can just throw out analog options. The American Library also has a story sharing prompt with paper and pencils to make it more physical and accessible to older generations. A combination of digital and analog creates more points of entry for people. It’s been such a successful interactive, with tons of responses.

Cyrus: That, that, what you were talking about, about digital accessibility is a great segue into my next question. The exhibit is interactive, which makes it accessible to people of all ages and walks of life, just something I've always loved about the Skirball. How do you find interactive art enhances or changes the message of an exhibit?

Vicki: We want to appeal to a beastly broad audience as a cultural center. A lot of our exhibits center around not wanting to talk down to the audience or present information in a hierarchical way. Interactives are great because then the visitor becomes a part of the story, and has their own agency in a bigger conversation. It creates investment and buy-in for visitors who think, ‘why should I care?’ I’m always curating for the person who doesn’t care, and make it exciting for them.

Cyrus: Lastly, what do hope visitors - especially teen visitors - take away from this exhibit?

Vicki: I can’t exactly put myself in the shoes of teens today, but when I was young, most of the heroes I looked up to were white men and they didn’t look like me. Through The American Library, I found out about this astronaut Eugene Trinh, the first Vietnamese American astronaut. It was amazing to learn about him because I loved space as a kid, but I only ever learned about the three men who landed on the moon, and I can’t really relate to them. To find a Vietnamese astronaut, even as an adult, was so meaningful. I hope people coming to this exhibit can see themselves and their aspirations.

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A True Story of Extremist Radicalization, Verbatim

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How does an average American father become a dangerous insurrectionist pursued by the FBI? Fatherland, conceived and directed by Stephen Sachs at the Fountain Theatre, portrays the sociopolitical process, as well as the human experience, of polarization. The play follows a character referred to as “The Son”(Patrick Keleher) testifying against “The Father” (Ron Bottita) in court for his presence at the insurrection on January 6th, 2021. It is a true story, with every line taken from real court transcripts, case evidence, and public statements. This is the art of verbatim theater, in which plays are written and produced without a single line added to or edited, straight from the original source.

The narrative begins in the courtroom as the son gives his testimony, and then moves into his memories of the years prior to the attack, as well as events of January 6th from his father’s perspective. The show shifts between these three time frames seamlessly, often portraying multiple simultaneously. The set by Joel Daavid is built upon a few sparsely painted metallic walls, which change in mood along with the lighting design and plot. The lighting by Allison Brummer and sound design by Stewart Blackwood further immerse the audience into the hearts and minds of the tragic duo. Verbatim theater creates this visceral resonance because it is so close to our reality, only a few steps away from the real events it portrays. These characters are our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

Although most of Fatherland is told from the son’s perspective, both of the duo’s experiences are shown just as they were. As the son begins his statement, a flashback brings us into the early 2010s. Our main characters sing along to Taylor Swift on the radio. The son and his father hold political positions that he defines as moderately left and moderately right, respectively. Soon, the audience starts to see the father frustrated. In a tough financial situation with a family to care for, a promised American Dream feels like it’s been stolen from him. An explanation for his troubles is given to him by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who promises a solution, a better country, that American dream. The Father and Son continue to disagree, slowly drifting farther apart. When Trump wins the election the situation continues to escalate. He tells his son about how they’re going to take their country back. But surely it’s all talk, the son convinces himself. His dad would never actually do that.

When the son wakes up one day, the pickup truck his father had loaded with weapons the night before is gone. He had actually gone to do it. The son makes an online tip to the FBI, and soon watches his father on the news, standing on the United States capitol. The rest is American history.

The son’s story of losing his father, being the one to turn him in, and being shunned from his family afterwards is heartbreaking. But what struck me even more was just how much I felt for the father. I’m sure that many Americans could understand his emotions as well. There is this narrative around the United States, a utopian opportunity to grow and thrive and live a fulfilling life if you just put in the hard work. When that dream feels like it’s slipping through your fingers, you feel cheated. People feel that someone must be out to get them. And when a politician comes along to give those vulnerable people a scapegoat and a promised solution, they often follow.

As I watched Fatherland, what became clear to me was the full extent that extremist politicians intentionally manipulated vulnerable citizens, turning them into pawns in a selfish plan to take down the free democracy they convinced people they were fighting for. Stephen Sachs’ execution of the script brilliantly pieced together the information surrounding January 6th, which currently exists as a disjointed mess in the collective consciousness of most of the country. Who said what, what happened when, and was it really orchestrated or just an unfortunate effect of mob mentality? When you watch the slow descent of this regular human person against the political backdrop of the time, it becomes abundantly clear that it was all intentional.

By giving the audience a view into the father’s experiences with the knowledge that he is a real person, Fatherland connects uswith his humanity, as well as the humanity of other January 6th participants. Actor Ron Bottita, when discussing his role in Fatherland, commented how his goal was to portray the role in a fair and balanced way, and allow the audience to come to their own conclusions. The whole cast and crew communicate that same important quality: truth, without judgment. We see firsthand the dangers of the extremism pipeline that he went through. Fatherland is a masterpiece of humanity, family, and America, which utilizes verbatim theater to connect the audience with the January 6th insurrectionists in a way no other media could. It allows the audience to draw their own conclusions based on the exact events that occurred.

Events like January 6th are so horrific that the easiest way to console ourselves is by framing the people involved in them as crazy, evil, and inhuman. This feels better than confronting the fact that they are real people, usually with good intentions within their warped reality. And while it does not excuse their actions, dehumanizing the people who are radicalized by fascism, as well as their leaders, leads us blind into letting it happen again. In a time when our democracy is under attack, we must recognize that no one is immune to propaganda, and focus our energy towards the people pulling the strings of radicalization. If we don’t, they will continue to tear us apart like father from son.


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Dive Deeper into Hamlet, Solus with David Melville

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Founded in 1998, Independent Shakespeare Co. started their iconic free outdoor

Shakespeare performances in 2003, at Barnsdall Park. By 2010, ISCLA had moved to Griffith Park’s Old Zoo and has since performed two shows every summer, with bonus live music and cultural performances for their audience of over 40,000. I am one of ISCLA’s many adoring patrons, and have seen their shows every summer for longer than I can remember. Their sense of whimsy, incredible commitment, total immersion with the outdoor performance space, and ability to adapt Shakespeare to modern sensibilities through music, costume, and more makes the experience a delight every time.

As a non-profit theater group, their longevity and ability to survive the pandemic

is inspirational -- amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, they even established a permanent stage at Griffith Park! But their outdoor space is not the only home of ISCLA’s breathtaking shows; in 2011, Atwater Crossing Complex welcomed ISCLA into their arms with a year-round indoor theater space. This 65-seat theater has been home to incredible shows over the years: Julius Caesar, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, singalongs, and even workshops with Independent Shakespeare’s wonderful founders, David Melville and Melissa Chalsma. Now, from March 21-April 9, David Melville will be performing Hamlet, Solus, a one-man show version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.

Melville is no stranger to solo theater; for many consecutive years, he has

performed a two-person show of A Christmas Carol, playing both Dickens and most of the characters. He’s also done some even more minimalist one-person shows including Nicholas Nickelby and Solemn Mockeries. Hamlet, Solus, however, is an entirely different beast. Fascinated by the commitment to such an emotional and complex show, as well as being a huge fan of Shakespeare, I sat down with David Melville to discuss what led him to create this iambic lab.

Cyrus: Of all the famous and beloved Shakespeare plays, what drew you towards Hamlet for the Iambic Lab?

David: Well, I suppose I have a long history with Hamlet. I've done it a number of times, not just with ISC. It was the play that brought me to America. I was in a production that was on Broadway in 1995, and Ralph Fiennes was playing Hamlet, and that's where I met Melissa, and Melissa and I run the company together. So really, Hamlet's the reason I ended up in America, and I ended up meeting Melissa, and without Hamlet, I wouldn't have my children, or Independent Shakespeare Company wouldn't exist. And then when we started doing shows in the park, our second season, 2005, we did Hamlet, and I played Hamlet that time. And I think it was the first show where things really started to take off. It was the first show that really started attracting significantly large audiences, and it was popular.So we did it again the next year, and then we came back to it several times, and it's always been really good to us, I think, in that regard. And the last time I did it was, gosh, must be about 12 years ago now, and I was sad when it was over, because I had such a long relationship with the play. But I always thought it was unfinished business somehow, and I think I was doing a school's workshop, and I had to do some speeches from Hamlet, and I just got the idea then, I wanted to actually do this as a one-person show. But if you do a one-person show, you're not just playing Hamlet, you're playing everyone, so that kind of gives you license to, you know, to be creative. So that's kind of how we arrived at it.

Cyrus: That's perfect. That's actually a great segue to my next question of playing even one of the main roles in Hamlet would be a daunting task, and you're playing them all. What's that like, emotionally and physically, and even practically?

David: We're not doing four and a half hours of me saying absolutely every line. And it's been whittled down quite a bit. I think that it probably should be, it's a little, probably a little over 90 minutes. So I've had to cut quite a lot of roles, and I've really sort of centered on certain themes and certain relationships. But, you know, most of the main characters are there. So I found it interesting starting to work on it, having been so familiar with Hamlet and Hamlet's point of view, it does feel a little bit like the characters are being presented from Hamlet's perspective. So Claudius is way more evil than an actor would approach him, probably, you know, and Gertrude is way more fickle and flighty. And I don't know whether that's how it'll end up in the actual sort of final mix, but certainly as a way in, it was hard to dissociate myself from Hamlet's perspective and his point of view.

Cyrus: One thing that fascinates me about Independent Shakespeare is that you guys often incorporate modern music and live music into your productions. I noticed that that's also a theme for Hamlet, Solus. How do you think that enhances or changes the meaning of the story?

David: Hopefully it enhances it. I think there might be some people that come and see it and strongly disagree with that. You know, there's not a whole lot of music. I mean, it's mostly the Shakespeare text, but I, you know, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to experiment with a certain way of doing things. And I've done a number of one person shows before and I've always approached them in a very minimal way.But, you know, I've been interested in -- I've started doing a lot of sound design for the show. So when I work as a director, I often do my own sound design. And I really like it. And I record my own music at home because I write. So I've been writing songs for the Shakespeare plays. So I do love sound design. And I was sort of curious about how to use looping and whether there was a practical application for that in a stage. So I wanted to see if there was a way to create live loops on stage, and I'm trying to incorporate it on some lines. So certain words can be put into a loop and then sort of repeat. It's quite complicated, because it means I've got to have various trigger points around the stage, where I can activate these things. I mean, doing Hamlet as a solo show is a tightrope walk, as it is, but to deal with all this very fiddly tech stuff… I don't know, my mind might explode.

Cyrus: But hopefully not until after the show.

David: During the show, probably.But, you know, in rehearsals, we've done it, you know, it's quite satisfying when it works. But so yeah, I was just really interested in can I do that? Can I build just using the kind of synthesizer applications that you would use in a program like Logic? There's a live version of that called Main Stage. And I'm not using it a whole lot, but to be able to sort of play just a tone that will underscore a speech in a way.

David (continued): I'm giving a little bit more space to a character who I think is probably the most important character in Hamlet, outside of Hamlet, who doesn't have any lines. And that's Yorick. Whenever you see a picture of Hamlet, you know, it's Hamlet holding Yorick. He's quite sort of iconic as far as the production goes. But we don't really know too much about him [Yorick]. But he has a very interesting perspective, I think, because Hamlet is so much about death and grief. And that's one of the themes I'm trying to explore in this. And, you know, of course, Yorick sort of is on the other side of that. He does know a thing or two about it. You know, he might just be the court fool, but he is actually, something that Hamlet doesn't know, and it's not until Hamlet meets Yorick that it's after his meeting with Yorick that he's finally ready to do what he's been avoiding all of this time, not until he stares into Yorick's eyes, or what used to be his eyes. So I've sort of resurrected him, and he's helping to narrate the show a little bit. But rather than me sort of trying to write Shakespeare, I'm doing it mostly in the form of this 1930s/40s English Music Hall style, in the style of this performer called George Formby, who played a banjolele. And so I'm sort of riffing around his song style, which is very upbeat and comedic. So, tonally, it's very much against the grain of what people would expect from something like this. I'm not sure, you know, whether it's going to please people or not. But I'm just -- this is a ridiculously indulgent project. (laughs)

Cyrus: What was the process of making Hamlet, Solus? Like, I know sometimes productions can be sat on for years. If so, how many months, years, how much time has been spent?

David: We've talked about it for a long time, mostly sort of as a joke. When we're trying to think about what we're going to put in our indoor space, and something drops out. And I said, ‘Well, I can always do my one-man Hamlet’. But this year, I guess, Melissa, just put it on the calendar. And I didn't know whether she was serious or not, but I decided to take her seriously. And then the next part, I guess, was trying to learn some of the speeches of the characters that I'd not played before. So that they're sort of more in my bones, because Hamlet's very in my bones, but you know, Gertrude obviously isn't. So that was the other key part of the process, but it's been very, very much “solus”. But, you know, one of the nice things about doing a one person show is that you can always be in rehearsal. If you're in the car, or whatever you're doing, you know, you can always be working on it. But one of the downsides is that it's rather lonely. And I, one of the things I love about being in the theatre is, you know, having my fellow actors around to goof around and play with and, you know, it's a little lonely. Although I do anticipate that I can have many cast parties, and they'll all be very cheap.

Cyrus: You can invite Hamlet and Gertrude.

David: I don't know that you’d want Hamlet at a party. (laughs)

Cyrus: What do you want or hope audiences to take away from this show?

David: I think that I'd like people to connect with the themes that I want to explore. I'd like them to have a slightly deeper understanding of some of the relationships. I'd like them to sort of understand the graveyard scene as more than just a comic bit. I'd like to think that one of the advantages of doing it as a one person show is you can show characters' points of view a little clearer. Because you have to take a little bit more time in between reactions, and you can stay with reactions, you can show one person saying something to show the other reaction. But if it's just you, you can highlight some of the characters' points of view. There are some key moments. The piece with Hamlet meeting Yorick, which I'm setting up Yorick as kind of this dark comic character. But there's a seriousness when they meet. And also the scene with Gertrude -- I think there's something about the way that it's been edited that it sort of really leads to that moment. So I hope I can sort of highlight some of Gertrude's turmoil and her guilt. And I hope it sort of weirdly, even though it's very sort of edited, I hope there are some elements of the story that maybe make a little more sense. Something I'm very interested in is why Hamlet pretends to be mad. I'm making Hamlet's madness, this sort of weird, like early Pink Floyd sort of noise that sort of keeps coming back and annoying Claudius. So I can create this sort of sound character. So and again, because you're seeing things, you know, the perspective of the characters a little more clearly because it's one person show. I hope I can sort of hone in on the use of Hamlet’s feigned madness that’s a little different from what you would be able to do in a bigger production. Basically grief and madness.

Cyrus: I love that. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but what do you hope to take away from this experience? Do you think you’ll do an iambic lab or Solus project like this in the future?

David: Well we haven’t performed it yet, so we don’t know. It is an act of extreme hubris, so I could fall on my face and regret it. Or I could find wonderful new modes of expression. I mean, I’m challenging myself in ways I’ve never done before, and it’s really scary, and I hope it’s successful and it resonates. If it isn’t successful, I hope I give myself permission to be brave.

Cyrus: Lastly, do you think Hamlet, Solus is accessible to teens who have never seen Sahelsepate and how might they want to prepare for the show?

David: That’s a really good question. I hope it will be; I’m trying to make the story as clear as I can get. I do think the approach to it is playful, hopefully humorous, moving when it needs to be. That’s always a dangerous area with tragic materials -- you don’t want to overplay that comedy, but not overlay the tragedy that people are so bored with. Checkhov used to say “you need to make people laugh before they can cry”. It’ll never be boring, any of this. I do think it’ll be of interest to teens. Even if students don’t study Hamlet, they’ll probably hear some of these lines used as quotations; it’s nice to know where it sits, where it stems from.

Cyrus: Thank you so much; that’s all the questions I’ve prepared. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to teens or anyone else preparing to see the show?

David: Just come with an open mind (laughs). Everything we do, we try to make it warm and welcoming to everyone. If you don’t know Hamlet, it could be the beginning of a wonderful journey, and if you do know Hamlet, it could lend you some deeper insights.

Though Hamlet, Solus has only been in production for a few months, it seems as

though this production from David Melville was inevitable. Hamlet is interwoven with ISCLA’s very DNA, from Melville’s move to America to Independent Shakespeare’s rise in local fame. His personal connection to Hamlet creates a gripping, personal narrative that just hearing about made me jittery with excitement. From the moment I heard about Hamlet, Solus and marked my calendar to see it, to every detail I learned about its creation and nuance by talking to David Melville, I knew this solo expedition into Hamlet would be something unforgettable.

This interview-article is compiled from an audio interview conducted on 5/3/24. Not all of Mr Melville’s full responses have been included. Some responses have been edited or cut.

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Beyond the Bravo - The Importance of an Engaging Crowd

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Nobody ever wants teens to be loud or take up space. But what if there was a place that wasn’t true?

When you were young and you went to the theater, stuffy old adults told you to be quiet and sit still and pay attention -- after all, that was what they were told, and to them, that’s how you express respect for the show. This can make going to the theater a very daunting and unwelcoming environment for teens, not to mention mind-numbingly boring. Nothing kills a show more than dead silence.

Turns out, that’s how the actors feel as well! Actors want people to cheer and shout and clap and be loud; to them, that’s really they can tell someone enjoys the show, not silent approving nods in the darkness.

When I went to see The Winter’s Tale at Antaeus Theatre Company with a group of my friends, we had all previously been in a production of it, so we knew what to expect. We howled with laughter, we sang along to the songs, we booed the antagonistic characters, and we clapped and roared until our throats and hands were raw. The cast adored it. They came out from backstage invigorated, telling us how wonderful of an audience we were and how appreciated they felt.

It made me realize that no one wants a theater to be quiet (except maybe grumpy old men). The highest sign of respect you can pay to an actor is to express your feelings, and do it loud and proud! They put so much work into their comedy routines, musicals, and plays, that a teen laughing at a joke they likely spent weeks practicing is more precious than a double rainbow.

Of course, this is not to endorse any kind of disruptive behavior. Disrespecting the theater you’re at, talking loudly with your friends, or heckling actors that are working very hard to make you smile is just plain rude. Besides, why bother going to a show just to be an unkind audience? It seems a waste of time and money, if you ask me -- not to mention way less enjoyable than the actual show being performed.

So next time you grab your TeenTix Pass and see a show, laugh if something’s funny. Cry if it breaks your heart, and clap so hard your hands hurt. And if that cranky couple gives you a stink eye? Just cheer louder.


Cyrus Rose is a TeenTix LA Intern.

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Introducing TeenTix LA's New Interns

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We have a huge announcement! TeenTix LA has proudly welcomed 5 new teen interns for the 2023-2024 school year! Our new interns include: Ghino, Cyrus, Callie, Silvia, and Aubrey who are so excited to be a part of TeenTix LA. We can’t wait for the amazing ways they will be supporting the arts community in LA. We asked each teen intern to send their own responses to the questions below so you can get to know a little bit more about them, their experiences with the arts, and why they were passionate about joining the TeenTix LA family.

Fun fact:

Silvia: I have two pet rabbits!

Ghino: I want to go skydiving when I turn 18.

Callie: I’ve been a turophile my whole life.

Cyrus: Fun fact — I played Friar Laurence in a lesbian-cowboys themed Romeo and Juliet. (With Shakespeare Youth Festival)

Aubrey: I have a hairless guinea pig.

Why did you want to be a part of the TeenTix LA team?

Silvia: I think it's really important that kids my age are exposed to great art opportunities and all teens should have access to art experiences throughout LA.

Do you have a favorite arts going experience/memory you would like to share?

Cyrus: I’ve been to many arts experiences, one of my favorites was seeing Chicago (my favorite musical since childhood) on Broadway. I also enjoy going to the Skirball, and I particularly enjoyed their Simon & Garfunkel and Star Trek exhibits.

What are you most looking forward to working on as you work with TeenTix LA?

Ghino: I'm excited to work with like-minded individuals and build community, not only strengthening our bond as a team, but also organizing events that bring attention and satisfaction to our modern arts environment.

Aubrey: I’m looking forward to meeting new artists my age!Lastly, what do you hope to gain from this internship?

Callie: As I embark on this internship, I'm looking forward to gaining a more well-rounded perspective on the arts. I'm eager to contribute my skills, learn from the expertise around me, and actively participate in initiatives that promote the arts and make it more accessible to students. I hope to explore the intersection of creativity, community, and personal growth.


We are so happy to have 5 unique and passionate teen interns on our team. We hope you got to learn more about them – you’ll definitely be seeing more of them throughout the school year. If you want to read more info about the interns’ responses from the other questions, make sure you check back on our Instagram where we’ll be highlighting them and their full responses over the next month. Until then, happy arts-attending! Meet Ghino!Meet Silvia!Meet Aubrey!Meet Callie!Meet Cyrus!

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Why TeenTix LA Matters

By Theo D., former TeenTix LA intern


Hi, my name is Theo and I’m 16 years old. Do you remember your first live performance? A concert, a play, a musical? Well mine was the Lion King when I was 3. I was mesmerized by the boy playing young simba, and asked my mom when it would be my turn to be on stage. This sparked my passion for the arts. I spent my childhood in theater, singing, dance, piano, writing, and visual arts. They were the center of my life, my heart and soul.And then everything changed. When I was fourteen years old, what we now know was lifelong chronic illnesses that weren’t previously accurately identified, were exacerbated by a black mold infection, and culminated in intestinal failure. We didn’t think I would make it to the end of 2022. It was unlikely I’d ever see a performance again, let alone be in one.When everything seemed hopeless, I found a glimmer of light. While an amazing team of doctors deserve credit for saving my life, my mental health was saved by a different miracle: TeenTix LA, a non profit that aims to break the barriers keeping LA teens out of the arts community and empower them to engage with it on their own terms. Firstly, TeenTix removes financial barriers. The free TeenTix LA pass reduces admission to just $5 for 13-19 year olds in LA. Secondly, navigating and accessing the arts community can be really intimidating and overwhelming. But youth are wanted and needed at arts events. That’s why we compile all the best arts events into a monthly interactive calendar, so teens can easily find events that interest them and reserve their tickets.I was over the moon when I was chosen to be one of the first teen interns for TeenTix LA. My job was to go to our arts partners productions and advertise them on our instagram. And at first, it felt like an average theater going experience. But that quickly changed. I eventually took the initiative to talk to the artists and staff who made these productions happen and tell them about teentix.. I’d connect with all kinds of people and the more events I attended the more the word spread. Pretty quickly I went from explaining what TeenTix was to instantly connecting over passion for the program because the artists had already heard of it. I was so proud to realize that I had made that change happen. Everyone I talked to was thrilled to see young people getting involved. Soon, they started recognizing me and being excited to see me. For the first time in over a year, I felt like I was still an artist and had something meaningful to contribute to the community. These people saw me as more than a sick kid, and every one of them helped create one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Because TeenTix LA doesn’t just help teens observe the arts, it empowers them to be a part of them.My paid internship ended in June, but I was so motivated by the bright future of this organization that I’ve stayed on as a volunteer to help them grow. There are currently is only one full time staff member on the team, so at the moment we don’t have the resources to manage many more partners. But with funding for more staff, we can continue to grow our list of over 30 community and arts partners and create even more opportunities for LA teens.So we need your help.In the future, TeenTix LA would like to launch an arts journalism program for LA youth, hire more teens and pay them for their work, partner with rideshare companies to provide transportation access to our Passholders amidst the nightmare of LA public transport, and reach as many people like me as we can.The success of the Seattle branch of TeenTix shows us just how possible this is, and in TeenTix LA’s first year and a half, we’ve had massive growth already. We have 1700 teens signed up for our pass and passes have been used over 1000 times. We also had our first in person event for Passholders in March, and plan on many more.My medical circumstances may be rare, but LA teens who need a vessel for connection and community aren’t. With your help, we can bring that glimmer of hope to all LA youth. Let’s make it a reality together.

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Learn more about A NEW BRAIN

Q&A by Hannah Gumpert, TeenTix LA Intern

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A New Brain, a show put on by Celebration Theatre and Los Angeles LGBT Center, delves into the concepts of mortality, second chances, and the healing power of art. It follows songwriter Gordon Schwinn, who, after collapsing into their lunch and waking up in the hospital, is faced with the possibility that they might die before writing their greatest songs. The show, Celebration Theatre's first musical in years, is performed with gender-expansive casting. We get the opportunity to learn more about the experience of being in this show and theater through A New Brain's lead actor, Amanda Kruger (they/them).


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Reflections on SCINTILLA at Road Theatre Company!

Q&A by Hannah Gumpert, TeenTix LA Intern

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With global warming worse than ever and wildfires becoming a yearly occurrence in California, SCINTILLA, recently performed by the Road Theatre Company, is a timely and necessary play about the effect we have on our world. The play follows Michael and Nora as they travel to California's Wine Country to visit his mother, Marianne. As a raging California wildfire approaches Marianne's home, Michael struggles with his mother's refusal to leave, two unexpected visitors, and a complicated family history. SCINTILLA brings up the ultimate question of our very survival on Earth. Fortunately for us, we were able to hear from Danna Hyams, the show's producer, and go deeper into the process and production of SCINTILLA.Why did you choose to put on this show?

I was invited to hear the play read at the playwright's home in the fall of 2019. It was beautifully written and I was completely taken in by the different themes in the story. An extremely well drawn family conflict, juxtaposed by the outward immediate threat of fire and ultimate threat to the planet. I wanted to make this happen and I submitted it to The Road. I was thrilled when they decided to produce it for a Spring 2020 opening. But, of course, we all know what happened in March of 2020. So, we had to put the production on hold. It took three years, but I am very happy that we were able to present it now. What message do you want your audience to take away?

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Celebrate A Holiday Classic with A Noise Within

Q&A by TeenTix LA Marketing Assistant Albert Tran

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The holiday season is upon us, and A Noise Within has brought back a yearly festive classic. If you haven’t heard about the tale of A Christmas Carol, now is the time to feel immersed within this world. This universal experience unravels the story through its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, as he discovers change within himself as a person during Christmastime. Lucky for you all, we were able to learn more about this production through the creative eye of Geoff Elliott, the adapter of A Christmas Carol who plays Scrooge himself.


Why did your team decide to showcase A Christmas Carol and have it performed?

Charles Dickens’ short novel A Christmas Carol is an unparalleled tale of transformation and forgiveness. We as an audience are given the opportunity to experience, through Scrooge, the possibilities for change-how just one person can dramatically affect those around them for good or evil. We believe it is vitally important to share with the community such a transformation.

Why do we do it every holiday season and how is the audience impacted?

Well before we began performing the adaptation as a yearly event beginning in 2012, we dreamed of having this holiday tradition on a yearly basis. After we moved into our new and permanent home in 2011 we knew the time was now. The play brings new, younger, families to the theatre, many for the first time. It introduces them to the caliber of work at A Noise Within and many come back to see the other productions. It has become a tradition for members of our community with many coming back over and over again. To be onstage and feel the emotional impact from the audience at curtain call is an experience an actor never forgets.

Why is A Christmas Carol significant to you or your organization?

Dickens’ masterpiece is timeless. Its relevance today, in our rather troubled world, is a healing balm both to us and our audiences every year.

What do we hope for teens to obtain from the production?

First and foremost, that this specific classic and indeed all of the great classics have real world significance-that these plays are not dusty old library books forgotten on a shelf, but have a great deal to tell us about our lives right now. And our young audience members are given the opportunity to realize that live theatre is a once in a lifetime experience, that their active participation as audience members energizes the performers, making that particular day a group effort.


We would like to thank Geoff Elliott for sharing his experience working on this production with TeenTix LA. Click HERE to learn how to see this production for just $5 before it closes on December 23rd. Be like Ebenezer Scrooge and don’t miss out on feeling transformed by art this season. Enjoy the holiday excitement with your loved ones. We wish you all a happy holiday!

Photo by Craig Schwartz

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Get Ready To SMILE for IAMA Theatre

Q&A by TeenTix LA Marketing Assistant Albert Tran

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Get Ready To SMILE for IAMA Theatre

We are so excited to be back promoting another show with our arts partner, IAMA Theatre! SMILE premiered on November 10th. This show explores the story of a 17 year old girl from Northeast Philadelphia. When an “incident” follows pursuit at her affluent school landing her in the guidance counselor’s office, the two find themselves forming an unlikely yet complicated relationship. The main character is also learning how to navigate a world defined by her race, gender, and class. We wanted to learn more about their upcoming production so we asked Stefanie Black, IAMA’s Artistic Director, for more insight.

Why did your team decide to showcase SMILE and how did it come about when choosing which productions to perform?

SMILE was originally developed in 2018 in IAMA's New Works Festival. Melissa Jane Osborne, the playwright, is an ensemble member and submitted the piece. We have been developing it with her and director, Michelle Bossy since 2018. It was originally programmed to premiere in the fall of 2020, but due to the Pandemic, it had been postponed till now. We were and still are so excited about sharing this very relevant and timely piece of theater. It's a story with many perspectives and touches on the very potent themes of grief, trauma, and connection.

What message do you or your team want for teens to obtain from seeing this production?

We want to create more dialogue around feeling seen and heard as a young person. This play examines the many ways that teenagers do not have agency over their own experience, their bodies, their choices; how they rely on adults for safety and care, and how their feelings and perspective is so important. That their voices matter.

What’s something you or your team have learned while participating in this production and are there any lasting impressions you might have?

We have learned that centering the experiences of others around us is the best path to true collaboration and trust. In an environment where you are developing a new play, it's so important for everyone to feel they have a voice in the process and are a vital part of telling this story.

If you could explain this production in one word, what would it be and why?


Why do you think this production deserves to be seen by audiences?

There is a lot to be learned from the past. Not just our own, but our society's. It's so important to be able to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see where we have grown and where we still have work to do. This play helps us look at how not much has changed since 1992 and that we, as a society, still have much to do when it comes to uplifting women and their freedoms.

We would like to thank all of the members in IAMA Theatre, including Melissa Jane Osborne, Michelle Bossy, and Stefanie Black for all of their hard work to piece together this production after a long hiatus. This story serves as a touching reminder reflecting on our own society and how much change there is still needed to have.

Check out our events calendar for more details on this interesting and complex production. Teens – take advantage of this deal while you can! In addition, TeenTix LA is having a TeenTix Night with IAMA Theatre on Sunday, November 20th. Don’t miss an opportunity to sign up for lots of fun, food, and a post-show talkback!

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Celebration Theatre Recognizes Transgender Experiences

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran


Happy Pride Month, everyone! We are so excited to celebrate Celebration Theatre’s current production, TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS. This important show acknowledges transgender individuals and their immense erasure and/or unrecorded moments from history. Based on personal and real-life experiences, TALES OF THE TRANCESTORS brings to you all an interpretative, first-time, live-telling of 6 transgender stories across history. Performed by 6 different artists, it’s a multi-genre experience infused with music, poetry, and one-acts that will bring about an authentic and unique perspective to the intersectional transgender experiences LIVE on stage. We asked Shaan Dasani, the play’s director, to further elaborate on this production.


Why did your organization want to specifically showcase TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS?

Celebration Theatre’s 40-year mission has been to entertain, inspire, and empower with innovative productions that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. The stories of our trans* family within that community, however, have too often remained untold. Celebration’s Interim Artistic Director, Ann James [Hamilton, Lempicka] (she/they) says, “This is a show that everyone can learn from and enjoy. I hope that the Hollywood Fringe and PRIDE audiences come out to see these artists bring respect to our community ancestors.”

What message do you (or your team) want for teens to obtain from seeing this play?

We're at a time right now where the conversation around trans* identity in media has been both a powerful tool for visibility and community building and has also put trans people under a sometimes uncomfortable microscope, especially as related to teens. We want younger folks to know that there were people who came before, that this isn't new, and that they are a part of a resilient history, and that resilience is a part of them.

What is an emotion/feeling you and your team hopefully want audiences to feel and why?

Inspired. Here are 6 stories about people who lived in their identity when it might have been near impossible to access community, medical care, stable employment, or other resources we have access to today, but they did it on their terms. They found a way to live true to themselves, which is ultimately what I hope we all strive for.

What is the meaning behind this production and what does it mean to you?

Trans history isn't taught in schools. And the history that has been recorded was many times sensationalized by the media at the time. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to explore the history of trans identity through cultures and through time, and bring these stories forward with dignity and respect, through the interpreted lens of these people, by actors who would feel connected to them. In this rendition, we go as far back as the mid-1800s, focusing largely on people who lived in North America, so this is just a small window into our history.

How important is this production to you and is there anything within the show (that you can disclose) that leaves a lasting impression?

At the end of the day, TRANSCESTORS is not just a show about trans people, it's a show about people and how they lived... some were musicians, some fought in wars, some are more rooted in local community impact.... all of them just happened to be trans. That's important, because seeing our stories from this frame helps humanize our experience beyond just one identity. It helps us be seen as a part of the fabric of society in a more holistic sense.


TeenTix LA would like to echo Shaan, the 6 artists, as well as the rest of the Celebration Theatre team that words have remained truly unspoken for many transgender folks throughout history. This uplifting production celebrates the transgender community and creates much-needed visibility for them. We are so thrilled this production exists -- not just for LGBTQ+ audiences, but for everyone who can gain inspiration from watching it. Just in time for Pride Month, this production is available with our TeenTix Pass for only $5. Fair warning – they only have TWO SHOWS LEFT (one on the 24th & other on the 25th) so once you are done reading this, click on our events calendar tab and make a plan to see this show!

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Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran

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In the spirit of celebrating last month’s AAPI month, we at TeenTix LA wanted to highlight Sierra Madre Playhouse’s current production of KING OF THE YEES. This spectacular production was directed by Tim Dang and written by Lauren Yee. The play tells the comical yet realistic story of growing up in Chinese American culture. For nearly twenty years, playwright Lauren Yee's father Larry has been a driving force in the Yee Family Association. Lauren has to race through history, space, and the fourth wall to find her father in this adventurous joyride through San Francisco’s disappearing past. KING OF THE YEES celebrates the emotional truths that everyone, including AAPI folks, can relate to. We asked the play’s director, Tim Dang, to further elaborate on this topic.


Why did your organization want to specifically showcase KING OF THE YEES?

Because of the diverse communities in the San Gabriel Valley, Sierra Madre Playhouse's mission is to connect people of our diverse communities to each other through bold, resonant live theater in an intimate setting that inspires, entertains, and celebrates our shared humanity. And in honor of May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, this play, King of the Yees by Lauren Yee, is the perfect production at the right time with its Asian Pacific. Although the themes are specifically educating us about Chinese American culture, this story has universal truths for all of us.

What message do you (or your team) want for teens to obtain from seeing this play?

The message of the play is for everyone, especially teens and young adults to always be “curious" about life. In this specific production, the knowledge about what our parents' generation grew up with will have a significant impact on the current generation and their future. By being curious, we ask a lot of questions. How do we stay connected to our past while moving forward in a changing world? How do the different generations navigate cultural, national, and familial borders of appreciation and understanding of each other?

What are some of your favorite moments and/or obstacles your team has faced in bringing this production to the big stage?

As this is an intimate theater, our challenge is to bring the human story up close and personal to our audience members. Unlike a big blockbuster film where you will see big special effects and action sequences, live theater has a smaller budget which gives each audience member the opportunity to use their imagination of what they are seeing. The audience member sees their own unique special effects and action sequences in their mind. But our favorite moments are bringing the celebration of Chinese culture and sharing it with the entire community.

What is the underlying significance of this play and why should people see it?

People are starting to travel again now that we are post-pandemic. Adventure is back in style. All the news headlines are telling us that the world is constantly changing at lightning speed. What playwright Lauren Yee has created is a fantastical journey through San Francisco Chinatown right from your seat. It is a theatrical joyride that is part Alice in Wonderland, part Wizard of Oz, and part lesson of self discovery. Everyone should see this play because it is a hilarious adventure while being a heartbreakingly honest story about the relationship between a daughter and her father.

What does this production mean to you and your team?

This production is all about connections. How can we appreciate the life that our parents went through in order to make our lives so much better and to make a better future for us and for our children. We need to be curious about how our parents grew up so that we can learn from them and apply our own life skills to building a better future.

In addition, I do have one bonus question – with May serving as AAPI month, what type of impact do you want for AAPI individuals to take away from this experience?

One of the best things for AAPI individuals to take away from this experience is to have pride about the culture in which we grew up in. To celebrate the culture, to celebrate the language, and of course, to celebrate our food. In many ways Chinese food is one of the easiest ways to share our stories. Eating is such a big part of our culture, that the conversations we have over a meal can have life long lessons along our journey of life.


Here at TeenTix LA, it’s so important to us that we take the time to acknowledge different cultures and to create a better understanding of the individuals around us. That is why it is significant to experience the stories of the people who have gone through different cultural shifts and experiences. KING OF THE YEES serves as a purposeful message to show how AAPI culture creates universal lessons amongst ourselves. This play is OUT NOW – available until June 12th, so make sure to head over to our events calendar and purchase your $5 tickets using our TeenTix Pass.

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Governor “ANN” Richards Is Ready To See Us

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran

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Pasadena Playhouse sets the stage for audiences to check out ANN, their newest production. ANN is written and performed by none other than Emmy Award-winner Holland Taylor. Taylor performs a memorable tribute and shines a positive light on the late Texas Governor Ann Richards. Through Taylor’s performance as Ann Richards, she is able to exude confidence and accompany a fresh yet colorful side to the character. Taylor’s successful performances throughout Texas, Chicago, Washington, DC, and at Broadway’s Lincoln Center have made this a long-awaited event in LA To get you excited for this awesome show, we asked Nelly Mueller, Marketing Manager for Pasadena Playhouse, a few questions about this highly-anticipated play.

- Why did Pasadena Playhouse choose Ann?

Ann was originally part of our 2019 - 2020 Season, before the pandemic hit. We're thrilled to be bringing back this show for its West Coast premiere this season, particularly because this will be Holland Taylor's last time performing this role. Our Producing Artistic Director, Danny Feldman, put it this way: "Holland Taylor is a true legend - her conception, writing, and performance of this show are evidence that she is truly one of the best we've got. It is a privilege to have her here with us to tell her delightful version of the story of Texas Governor Ann Richards one last time."

- What are some highlights or challenges from this production?

As is the nature of live theater, it's important to be ready for anything, and we have a truly excellent team here at Pasadena Playhouse that is always ready to expect the unexpected! We've also been lucky enough to collaborate with some of the team members at ZACH Theatre in Austin, TX to ensure that this production is the best it can be.

- What do you hope for teens to take away from the experience of viewing this production?

We hope that beyond enjoying the return of live theatre after a two year long absence, teens feel encouraged to register to vote! Holland Taylor reminds us that Ann Richards always said to "quit whining, and start participating." For this show, we've even teamed up with When We All Vote to make it easier than ever to register and participate in local and national elections, just like Governor Richards said we should. Visit to learn more.

- What your team is most proud of when doing this production?

This is our second in-person show that we've put up since COVID, and we're so thrilled by the amount of support we've received from our community. We're very proud of being a member supported theater, and it was the support for those members and the greater Southern California community that has allowed us to keep making bold and important theater. It really does take a village!

We are so happy and ecstatic that Pasadena Playhouse is back and better than ever. Their shows never fail to succeed and that is why so many community members around the Southern California area love them so much to keep their in-person shows running. We can’t wait for you all to go see ANN and hope y’all can be moved by Holland Taylor’s legendary portrayal of an iconic leader. Remember teens, you can head over to our events calendar and purchase your $5 tickets using our TeenTix Pass. Get your tickets as soon as you can before Governor Ann Richards retires for the VERY last time.

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The Skirball’s Newest Exhibition Explores Our Universe

Learn more about The Skirball Cultulral Center's awesome exhibition.

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran.

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“To boldly go where no man has gone before…,” is a well-known and iconic quote that has been referenced throughout culture in shows and movies. A generational franchise like Star Trek broke boundaries, creating a cult following for all sorts of people, especially those interested in science fiction. At first, it started as a television show, but that later grew into several spin-off shows as well as film adaptations. It’s no wonder that our friends at The Skirball Cultural Center decided to highlight a phenomenal franchise like Star Trek. We went on the scene to ask members of their staff a series of questions of why they decided to focus their current exhibition on the world of Star Trek and more. Read below to see what they answered!***Q&A between Albert Tran (Marketing Intern, TeenTix LA), Meredith Lancaster (Administrative Assistant for Communications and Marketing, The Skirball Cultural Center), Jennifer Caballero (Marketing Director, The Skirball Cultural Center) and Laura Mart (Curator, The Skirball Cultural Center)

Why did your organization decide to choose to curate an exhibition about the history of Star Trek?

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Mark your calendars - week of December 6!

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Hey, TeenTix LA community! We're so excited to share that - OH SO SOON - teens in Los Angeles can start using their TeenTix Pass at our growing list of arts partners! How exciting!!

Starting the week of December 6, you can use your pass at: Pasadena Playhouse, A Noise Within, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skirball Cultural Center, & Lineage Performing Arts Center... and that list will continue to grow over the coming weeks/months.

Make sure you are signed up for a PASS!

Keep an eye on our CALENDAR OF EVENTS!

Our arts partners can't wait to invite you into their spaces soon! Any questions? Reach out to!

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Join the TeenTix LA Community!

Welcome to the brand new TeenTix LA website! We’re SO excited you’re here.

Introducing Teen Tix LA

As we gear up for the official launch of the program, we’d be thrilled for you to join the TeenTix LA community now -- at our very beginning.

Ways to get involved:

Are you a teen looking to get access to amazing arts tickets in LA? Click here!

Are you a parent/guardian looking to get your teen involved? Click here!

Do you work at an arts/cultural organization or youth-serving organization and want to become a TeenTix LA partner? Click here!

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook and sign up for our weekly newsletter to be the first to know about our upcoming plans.

TeenTix LA exists to make the incredible arts and culture of LA accessible to teens. We can’t wait for you to see all of the awesome things we have in store!

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