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American Theatre Examines ‘Debbie Devine and 24th STreet Theatre’s Tightrope Act’

Readers gets a sense of the devotion to honesty and authenticity in the work of 24th STreet Theatre Artistic Director Debbie Devine in Steven Leigh Morris' profile for American Theatre. Young audiences are not to be underestimated and sugar-coating is frowned upon. "Make it real. Make me believe it," Devine urges playwright Bryan Davidson on their upcoming project Hansel and Greta: Bluegrass when he errs on the safe side, crafting a scene to be "overly sweet or formulaic." Local reviews of Walking the Tightrope, onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre May 2-3, 2015, have "noted Devine’s ability to plumb depths of emotion without being mawkish or sentimental" in the show's handling of family love and loss. She doesn't hesitate to call on a child's ability to pick up on deep subtext in a challenging scene. Devine explains, "kids understand perfectly well the pain of loss, and they struggle like the rest of us with how to get through that darkness." It's this commanding confidence in her young audiences that allows her to draw them out of themselves.

Debbie Devine—tall, with blonde curls, an alto voice and a resonating presence—stands outside the green double doors of her 24th Street Theatre, located in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Los Angeles not far from the University of Southern California. Devine evokes, in her way, the city’s mysterious patron saint, Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles—Our Lady the Queen of the Angels. In fact, she calls the 24th Street venue her church, recalling that a distraught woman recently wandered in through the open green doors, believing the place was an actual church.

For Devine, it might as well be. Theatre for her is a sanctuary in a city and a culture where sanctuary is often hard to find.

Devine is unfailingly kind but unmistakably assertive. When she’s dealing with a lobby full of children bused in by the Los Angeles Unified School District to see a play at the 99-seat venue, Devine will be heard. The woman can silence 100 kids screaming in English or in Spanish as efficiently as if she were using a bullhorn. (It’s just old-fashioned stage projection.) Running backstage to deal with an emergency, she moves like a gazelle.

Her purpose is always clear to her. Sometimes it’s less clear to others.

Read the full article online at American Theatre.

Photo Credit: Tony Duran and Micaela Martinez in the 24th Street Theatre production of "Walking the Tightrope." (Photo by Cooper Bates)