Saturday, May 05, 2007

Someone's Somebody transformed into a one-woman play

From 'nobody' to 'Somebody'
Regina Louise's heartbreaking memories of being a foster child lead to a one-woman play at STC.

Roberts, Alison. Sacramento Bee, April 28, 2007, pg. K2.

Regina Louise rehearses at the Sacramento Theatre Company recently, preparing for her one-woman play, "Someone's Somebody." -Sacramento Bee/Michael A. Jones

Regina Louise's life story has followed a sweeping dramatic arc, from the darkest of loneliness to the spotlight of standing ovations.

After a childhood of belonging nowhere and to no one, bouncing from one foster-care placement to another (more than 30 all together), Louise prevailed to find happiness, acclaim and family love as an adult.

Now she is taking her story to the stage for the world premiere of "Someone's Somebody," opening in previews Wednesday.

It's a one-woman version of Louise's 2003 memoir, "Somebody's Someone: A Memoir" (Warner Books, 384 pages, $23.95). (The play title purposely swaps the words of the memoir's title.)

During a rehearsal in the lobby of the Sacramento Theatre Company, there is no special lighting or music to set the mood. But Louise's words, face and eyes deliver punch enough.

"I, Regina Louise, was a nobody's child," she says in rehearsal. It was the only rational conclusion she could draw based on her experiences, from a devastating chance encounter with a family member who didn't recognize her to a literary agent's request for a childhood photo, a normally commonplace memento she simply didn't have.

Peggy Shannon, STC artistic director and director of this play, works with Louise during the rehearsal, encouraging her in a way that makes one think of the nicest kindergarten teacher ever on a kid's first day of school. She even calls Louise "sweetie pie" at one point.

Louise, despite being in her 40s (she declines to be more specific about her age), has the manner of an attentive schoolgirl trying her very best, her eyes wide and bright, and sometimes filling with tears.

Purpose with the play
During a break from rehearsal, Louise talks about the little girl she was, the girl whose heart she is still working to mend.

"I owe that child," she says. "I wasn't marginal, and I wasn't retarded and all the other stuff in the file. All I wanted was someone to love me."

That little girl has kept Louise working hard. After her memoir's success, she started speaking on behalf of children in foster care, and finally she became a full-time advocate for them.

"I became obsessed with the idea that no child should have to wait half their life to say the word 'Mama,' " she says.

The play has taken on a role in Louise's advocacy work. While she's in town, she will deliver a keynote address at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol, during a kickoff rally for National Foster Care Month in May.

Also, some children in foster care as well as those who work with them will be able to see the play, thanks to the sponsorship of the production by Casey Family Programs, a national foundation that has served children and families in the child welfare system since 1966.

Miryam Choca, the Casey director of California Strategies, says Louise's story embodies the greatest need in foster care: to create permanent bonds with caring adults for children in public care, whether through formal adoption or other means.

"Her story and the struggles that she experienced in foster care are pretty typical," Choca says, speaking by phone from San Diego, where she lives.

"A permanent lifelong connection, whether it's blood kin or not, is so, so important."

There are many stories like Louise's.
Close to 80,000 children live in foster care in California, about 4,300 of them in Sacramento County. Every year, more than 4,000 youths "age out" of foster care in the state. Last year, 284 kids aged out in Sacramento County. Often, they leave the system with little support or hope of success: Close to half of foster-care kids end up dropping out of high school, up to one-quarter are homeless, and about half are unemployed.

Bringing the memoir to the stage was itself a mini-drama within the larger drama of Louise's life. Friends had long suggested that Louise, a naturally gifted speaker who regularly brings audiences to tears, work on a theatrical version of her memoir.

When Shannon handed Louise a business card after hearing her speak at a charity lunch in 2005 in Sacramento, it felt as though fate were stepping in.

May is National Foster Care Month, led by Casey Family Programs, a foundation started in 1966 by United Parcel Service founder Jim Casey to help those in the child-welfare system. Here are some highlights of events marking the occasion in Sacramento.

• 2 p.m. Sunday: "In by Chance, Out by Choice," a special performance of a work by Kamika Whetstone, a former foster child. Music Recital Theater, California State University, Sacramento; $15, $10 for children and students; (916) 278-4323.

• 11 a.m. Tuesday: Kickoff Rally for Foster Care Month, north steps of the Capitol; free. Keynote speaker is Regina Louise. Other guests include actress Victoria Rowell, star of "The Young and the Restless."

• 7 p.m. Tuesday: Rowell will sign her foster-care memoir, "The Women Who Raised Me" (William Morrow; $25.95, 352 pages) at Borders Books, 2339 Fair Oaks Blvd.; (916) 564-0168.

• 5 p.m. Wednesday: Preview reception for the foster-care community, sponsored by Casey Family Programs, for "Someone's Somebody" by Regina Louise at the Sacramento Theatre Company. Free for anyone attending the preview performance at 6 p.m. at the theater, 1419 H St. (916) 443-6722.
For more information about these events, as well as ideas on how to assist children in foster care: click here or call (916) 503-2950.