Laylan Connelly

by Laylan Connelly

Loree Lynn was a promising dancer when she was paralyzed by polio at the age of 10. As a result, her show business father, knowing the hardships even able-bodied artists face, insisted she abandon any artistic ambition.

Today, 50 years later, the Manhattan Beach resident is devoting her life to helping others pursue their artistic ambitions.

"I dream of changing the way performing arts are seen by the current generation," Lynn said while sitting cross-legged in her wheelchair. "I really want to put art back in its rightful position. The support for aspiring artists doesn’t exist much anymore in our country."

During a recent afternoon at her Manhattan Beach home Lynn recalled the story of a woman who was told she couldn’t, all the while proving that she could.

"I couldn’t be a dancer. And my father didn’t want me to practice music because he didn’t want me to be crushed by the industry," Lynn said. "But all that did was serve as something for me to push against."

She kept her interest in the arts a secret from her father until she began singing professionally at age 13.

She continued her career through the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time when artistic talents flourished, but also a time when a disabled people were not accepted in show business.

"Society didn’t know what to do with me. I encountered a lot of prejudice because I was in a chair," Lynn said. "Handicapped people were not on the streets or in mainstream society. Not only was I out on the streets, but I was in show business."

After watching Lynn sing at a Chicago club in 1981, Chicago Tribune music critic Will Leonard wrote: "She is a vibrantly exciting singer, forthright and convincing, who doesn’t trade upon her disability or hint that she’s aware of it."

The Chicago area native produced, directed and starred in over 500 theatrical and nightclub productions across the country. She has also completed two CD’s and one album.

From 1978 to 1989 she operated the Loree Lynn Foundation, which taught performing arts to the physically handicapped. She was forced to close the foundation when she was struck by post-polio illness. But after four years of therapy she was back teaching again.

She taught a workshop in Pasadena for 10 years.

Creative freedom

Far too many adults, conform to cultural norms and forget their childhood dreams of being an artist, singer or dancer, Lynn said.

That’s why two years ago she founded DreaMakers, a non-profit arts center, out of her two-story, Tree Section home. The second floor serves as a dance and recording studio as well as a counseling area. The first floor has a small stage area with spotlights.

"Most parents don’t understand the artistic personality. They view it as negative, and label the child the black sheep of the family," she said. "Parents have a hard time supporting a child who wants to sing and dance. A common response is for parents to treat their child’s artistic interests as a hobby."

DreaMakers offers a wide variety of classes, including writing, singing, acting, dance, improv, and a unique all-in-one class, which combines a range of talents into one class.

The all-in-one class and counseling sessions are what make her program different than other arts programs, she said.

At Monday night’s all-in-one class, eight students gathered to perform group improv and one-person performances. Lynn incorporated counseling into the class, asking each person to set a goal for their lives. Many said, often reluctantly, that they want to have an artistic career, yet are held back by the voice in their heads that tells them an artistic career is unrealistic.

"Counseling the artistic person isn’t like counseling someone who has fallen apart. It is more of understanding of the person as an artist," Lynn said.

Ana Maria Gutierrez, a psychotherapist for battered women and children, began Lynn’s classes over a year ago. She said the classes changed what used to be her shy, quiet personality.

"I spent 27 years searching for why I was so shy. It had a lot to do with my fear of expression," she said. "Nobody understood me the way Loree did. I have no ambition to be a professional actress, but I now feel a freedom that I have never felt before."

Former student Christy Patton is DreaMakers’ executive director. Patton, 38, was newly clean after a long-term drug abuse problem prior to coming into DreaMakers.

"I wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for these classes," Patton said. "I was using drugs for almost 12 years. DreaMakers has enabled me to stay off of drugs. The classes are so much more than just acting. There is a genuine care and concern here. It’s like a family."

The classes, however, are not limited to people who are trying to break through their inhibitions and hardships to become a more ‘artistic’ person. Lynn also works with accomplished artists with professional ambitions. These students are preparing for the upcoming performing arts awards.

The World Awards 2001

DreaMakers hopes to have approximately 30 contestants from the South Bay competed in the Fifth Annual Performing Arts World Championships.

When Star Search was taken off the air a few years back, executive producer Griff O’Neal was disappointed that there would no longer be a platform for aspiring artists. So he created the Performing Arts World Championships.

"When you make it to the top you have tons of support," Lynn said. "But there is no one to support you on the way up."

The World Championship of Performing Arts is the only international event for aspiring performers.

The event is held once a year. This year’s event will be at the Burbank Hilton and Convention Center October 7 through October 14. Categories include dance, modeling, vocal, acting, comedy, bands, instrumentalists, and variety.

Last year, DreaMakers students Albert Morris and Deborah Guillory competed against more than 2,500 contestants and won three silver medals and two bronzes in the acting, singing and modeling categories.

Morris won a bronze medal for a musical interpretation of his life, which he developed at DreaMakers.

"It was really eye opening to see the international aspect of the entertainment industry," Morris said. "DreaMakers has brought me a long way. Loree wants to take people all the way into the industry."

Morris will be performing a shorter version of his play on June 30 at DreaMakers.

Plans for DreaMakers

Lynn hopes to build a new campus for DreaMakers within the next two years.

Her drawings for a four-story building show two theaters, a training center, equipment for artists, a recording studio and a nutrition floor, complete with a sauna, and a juice bar.

In the meantime, she is working to complete "The Anatomy of an Artist/The Significance of Art" and a video and manual about DreaMakers. She hopes sales of the book and revenue will help fund the new center.

She is also applying for grants from foundations such as LA Arts, and is searching for local contributors to help make DreaMakers into a full-fledged artist’s incubator.

"I have a real gift for understanding artists, to know who they are and what they are about," Lynn said. "I’m ready to do big things for them." ER