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Acting for Good

Young playwright helps kids at her new downtown acting studio.

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Some actors and playwrights set their sights on Broadway, but University of Memphis senior Nadia Matthews believes she can bring the spirit of the Great White Way to the Bluff City.

The ambitious 22-year-old playwright wants to transform Memphis into a theater destination and solve a few of the city's ills along the way.

At age 16, Matthews created the Lily Roze Foundation, a support network that seeks to raise awareness of societal issues through the arts. She also wrote, directed, and produced her first play, A Ghetto Fairytale, at age 16.

An appearance on The Tyra Banks Show and two sold-out plays later, she's opened Lily Roze Studios, an outlet providing actors of all levels and ages with a chance to strengthen their skills and star in her plays.

"Anybody who's ever wanted to get their feet wet in acting, singing, dancing, any kind of art, or if they're experienced and want to get more exposure, we definitely want them to come to Lily Roze," Matthews said.

The studio at 810 S. Main opened in September. On Saturday, December 17th, the studio will hold auditions for Matthews' newest play, Til Death Do Us Part?.

The play centers on a man who loses his wife to an illness after caring for her for three years. The man remarries, but at night, he dreams he's having an affair with his deceased wife. Til Death Do Us Part? is scheduled to run in April at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

About 50 kids come to Lily Roze Studios three days a week to improve their acting skills and receive tips on how to become more business-savvy and stay on the right path.

"We're giving them a chance to spark their creativity and help channel it, so they can be young entrepreneurs, business people, educators, or whatever they want to be," Matthews said.

Aspiring actress Morgan Prewett, 12, said coming to the studio has not only improved her acting skills but also provided her with an extended family.

"They're all nice and welcoming, and everyone's a lot of fun. They have a good sense of humor," Prewett said.

Also at the December 17th event, aspiring actors can audition for The FUSS Show, an unscripted, sketch show that will feature parodies of local and national news stories. The show will begin taping at the studio in front of a live audience in January.

To date, Matthews has garnered much success through her two plays, which both had sold-out crowds. A Ghetto Fairytale told the story of a poverty-stricken teen mom who got involved with drugs and gang activity and then overcame those obstacles.

The story was based on events Matthews and her peers experienced at Craigmont High School. The play, at LeMoyne-Owen College's Little Theater, raised more than $10,000 for the school.

Her second play, Bittersweet 16, involves a teenage orphan who was gang-raped and impregnated by her foster brothers. She eventually rises above adversity and reconnects with her father, who turns out to be a professional football player. Bittersweet 16 ran for five nights at the U of M's Rose Theatre.

In the years to come, Matthews hopes to get more people involved with Lily Roze Studios.

"I want to give Memphians the opportunity to have a production company here that does television shows, where they can get on TV, or work as an intern, or work the cameras," she said. "If they want to do a huge stage play, they can come and get that experience."

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