Greek-American Playwright and Actor Adam Kalesperis takes his talent abroad to show youth how the performing arts can help to shape their lives in positive, creative ways. Learn more!
A Cultural Exchange Offers Artistic Collaboration
At a time when tensions among nations seem to be rising, Greek-American Adam Kalesperis and his organization BRIDGE offer an antidote. BRIDGE, which stands for Building Relationships and Inspiring Dialogue through Global Exchange, “is an arts organization offering playwriting and acting programs to communities worldwide, providing opportunities for cultural exchange and artistic communion on a global scale,” according to the website.
Adam and his business partner, Joe Quintero, have a stake in international relations. Joe’s family emigrated to the United States from Ecuador, while Adam’s grandparents came from Greece. Both of them are actors, writers, and teaching artists, using their experience and talents to inspire youth both near and far.
In the Beginning There Was Art
Adam’s story begins in the Chicago area where he grew up and got his start in acting. His Greeks roots are from his father’s parents. His grandfather came from Rethymno on the island of Crete, and his grandmother emigrated from Argos. His Greek heritage continues to inspire him.
“My family was always very supportive of my creative aspirations. As a child, I fondly remember my yiayia reciting songs and encouraging me to sing and dance. I used to put on plays for my parents in the living room, casting my sister alongside me in the roles. Aesop’s Fables and ancient Greek myths definitely influenced my own stories, with a bend toward fantasy and always ending in a moral.”
Adam’s first professional performance was at age 8 when he was cast as a clown in a modern adaptation of “Jack and the Beanstalk” at Rialto Theatre in Joliet, IL. After that, he was involved in drama during middle and high school in Olympia Fields. Following high school, he performed with the Chicago Heights’ Drama Group, the Chicago Dramatists, Viaduct Theater in Chicago and Chopin Theatre in Chicago.
Following his dream to Hollywood
College and acting took this Greek-American to Los Angeles, where he graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in theater. He appeared in “The Dark Knight”, the sequel to “Batman Begins”, as well as in episodes of TV shows “ER” and “Women’s Murder Club”.
In LA, Adam began to teach people to collaboratively write and perform in their own plays. He did this with programs in prisons, behavioral treatment centers and low-income areas. There he met Joe Quintero, another actor and teacher who was doing the same thing, and the two decided to make their work international through the formation of BRIDGE in 2009.
Taking their show on the road
Ecuador became the site of their first international teaching program because Joe has family who still live there and work in education. Adam elaborated.
“We conducted a series of theater workshops for children at different schools throughout the country.”
What allowed BRIDGE to become a year-round organization is they have a contract to work with a school district in Lynwood, Calif., outside LA, during the academic year. Then, they take their program on the road to other countries, mainly during the summers.
“There is a lack of arts programming in public schools in California. The high school in Lynwood has a limited drama program, but there was nothing at the elementary and middle schools.”
BRIDGE now is that drama program for Lynwood, providing after-school workshops to 500 kids a year in 12 elementary schools and three middle schools. Adam described the impact.
“Often times we have a waiting list and have to turn kids away.”
He and Joe work with a team of approximately 20 teachings artists, designers and program staff who help them transform the cafeterias and gymnasiums of Lynwood schools into temporary theaters with a technical set-up of lighting and sound.
“Theater was a saving grace for me as a kid. It is a gift that propels me to give back.”
Expanding their global reach
Since Ecuador, BRIDGE has traveled to Nepal in 2013 and Rwanda in 2017 to teach their theater workshops. They partner with local theaters or schools and volunteers to teach playwriting to kids. Then, the kids rehearse an exchange play written by former BRIDGE participants in another country while the adult professionals and volunteers perform the plays just written.
“Just last summer we resumed our international work when we took a team to Kigali, Rwanda and collaborated with the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company. Together, we worked with more than 20 Rwandan children, culminating in a performance at the third annual international Ubumuntu Arts Festival.”
Adam said they’d be returning there this month.
“We will be returning there in February to establish a youth outreach team and conduct professional development training for a group of theater educators at Mashirika. They will then be able to teach the BRIDGE curriculum in Rwanda, and our hope is to rejoin them this coming summer to collaborate once again as part of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.”
As for the future, Adam would love to take the program to Greece. He does not currently have any family or professional connections there through which to set up a collaboration, but hopes he can establish some.
And the story continues …
Adam’s personal creative goal is to continue to develop his own play writing skills and body of work. He and Joe have each been working 60 hours a week as co-executive artistic directors of BRIDGE, but they are hoping to cut back as they continue to streamline their organization and hire more administrative staff. This Greek-American who relishes this new role, reflected.
“BRIDGE fills my life with a lot of purpose.”
Through BRIDGE, Adam and Joe act as ambassadors of American theater to people around the world. Hopefully as the universal truths of human nature explored in the ancient Greek plays and the Renaissance plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries still speak to us today, the plays created in BRIDGE workshops in California, Ecuador, Nepal, Rwanda and elsewhere will show people there is more that unites us than divides us.
How you can lend Your support
BRIDGE receives funding from the school districts and government organizations with which they work, but also from individual contributions. Make a donation here. BRIDGE is a federally recognized 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, so all contributions are tax-deductible.