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D2020 Person of the Week: Fmr parole officer-turned-drama-teacher inspires kids

Posted: 8:01 PM, Nov 24, 2017
Updated: 2017-11-25 01:01:24Z

Lou Fazzini started his career as a federal parole officer only to find his true passion in mid-life as a theater coach for kids in his community.

From “Alice in Wonderland” to the “Lion King”…“Charlotte’s Web” to “The Wizard of Oz,” youth in Macomb County have been taking the stage for more than 30 years thanks in large part to Lou Fazzini.

It all started back in the mid-80s when he and his wife Merle were trying to find a local youth theater program for their two girls; Lisa was 8, and Angela was 10. 

But when Lou started looking for drama programs geared towards kids, he couldn’t find any.

“When you said ‘children’s theater,’ it was more about going to see professionals act. It wasn’t doing. It was watching,” Lou explained.

And he wanted his girls to do. 

So, in 1985, he created his own program -- a non-profit theater arts education organization which is now known as “All The World’s A Stage.”

His girls took part in the group's programming along with other kids from around Macomb County.

“All my friends when I was growing up and in this program would call [my Dad] ‘Papa Lou.’ So, he wasn’t just my Dad; he was the Dad of many,” said Lisa Dobbins with a smile.

Lou Fazzini loved the program so much, the federal parole officer-by-day with a Master’s degree in criminal justice went back to school for a second Master’s degree in theater arts -- with a specialization in youth theater.

“I thought if I was going to run a program for kids, it’s probably a good idea to know what I’m doing,” he laughed.

His daughter Lisa went on to get a theater degree and a Master’s in psychology. She’s now back on stage with her dad as the program’s artistic director.

They’ve expanded the program to reach underserved and at-risk youth.

Part of that effort involves holding drama workshops with teens at the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center in Mt. Clemens.

“When we come in, we introduce them to theater. And I think by doing that, we disarm [them],” Lou said.

The staff sees that he has a knack for making connections.

“He’s very real. He’s very genuine, and the kids are only going to respond to those that they feel are really being honest and genuine with them,” said Gabrielle Biernat-Deschaine, Treatment Manager at the juvenile center.

Lou’ daughter – who also works with the kids -- agrees.

“A lot of people talk to kids that have problems like they’re a problem. And he talks to kids like they’re a person,” she said.

One of those kids was Colby – 16 at the time but now all grown up with her own family.

She remembers those weekly drama sessions where she got to role play and have fun and not feel like she was going to get punished for something.

What’s the one lesson Lou taught her that stays with her to this day?

“Just that life goes on I guess. It’s like I knew that, but It’s another reinforcement. You know?  [Advice from] someone who’s older and wiser, been there…lived a life,” she said softly.

Twenty-six-year-old Heather Ford of Sterling Heights also formed a bond with Lou while she was in juvenile detention.

“I think he has this deep ability for caring and for compassion and for seeing past people’s wrongdoing or seeing past what everybody else sees– they’re bad kids, they’re troubled kids,” said Ford.

“He saw something in me that inspired me to see something in my own self,”she added.

Heather said it was Lou Fazzini who encouraged her to go on to college. 

Helping people realize their full potential is a big part of why “Papa Lou” still teaches drama at the age of 70.

“The reason I do what I do is because I love to watch people find the moment in their life that brings them happiness,” he beamed.

That’s why Lou Fazzini is this week’s Detroit 2020 Person of the Week.

WANT TO SUPPORT YOUTH THEATRE?

Lou is hoping to expand the reach of “All the World’s a Stage” to inspire more kids find their true potential.

If you’d like to help, there’s a holiday concert fundraiser coming up.

It's set for Sunday, December 10 from 5:30-9-o’clock at Freddy’s Bar and Grill on Garfield Road in Clinton Township.

Admission is  a $10 donation.

The emcee is WXYZ Reporter Jennifer Ann Wilson -- a former child actor with "All The World's A Stage."

All the proceeds from the event benefit youth theater programs provided by “All the World’s a Stage.”

Holiday Concert Fundraiser for All The World’s A Stage

  • Sunday, Dec. 10 | 5:30-9pm
  • Freddy’s Bar and Grill
  • 40000 Garfield Rd.
  • Clinton Township
  • $10 donation

If you'd like to nominate someone for our Detroit 2020 Person of the Week, please email Alicia Smith at asmith@wxyz.com with "Person of the Week" in the subject line.