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Playwright Brings Theater, Art, Music To Kids In San Francisco Chinatown

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A poet, teacher and playwright is sharing her prodigious talents with children while filling a niche in San Francisco Chinatown.

Children learn how to sing, dance and act for the first time, and then showcase their skills in The Piano, a play-movie written by Clara Hsu.

The edited production was so impressive it screened at this year's Children's Film Festival in Seattle. Hsu's own piano students inspired the plot.


"I said, 'OK guys, you're going to have to sit up straight, or you're going to get sucked into 'The Piano.' They started laughing, I started laughing," smiled Hsu.

The playwright taught workshops over Zoom during the pandemic so her music students, aged 9 to 16, could learn their parts.

It's just one project of the Clarion Performing Arts Center, a place for families to find poetry, art, music and theater in Chinatown. The center on Waverly Street used to be a music store, but Hsu turned it into a nonprofit in 2019.

"If I want music, I can go there. If I want theater, I can go there," she said.

As the center's founder and executive director, Hsu has written and led twice-a-year productions for more than 130 students.

The set of workshops costs $200 for each child. Admission to the performances is free or discounted.

Student Nola Jesenko calls Hsu a patient instructor.

"She's really awesome," said the 12-year-old. "You can always talk to her, and she's also a really good teacher."

Nola's mother, Aileen Lagumen, says Clara's helped her daughter grow more confident.

"She's very introverted, very shy. I've seen her now, she can express herself better," Lagumen said of her daughter.

LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service

Hsu has also led weekly Chinese poetry groups for senior citizens since 2018 at On Lok Senior Center in Chinatown and at Bethany Low Income Housing in the Mission District.

Hsu started the meetings in person, then they transitioned online or by phone conferences during the pandemic. The readings warmed the seniors' hearts.

"When we read the poetry, they'd identify the mountain or the village," said Hsu. "It brings back those memories."

"She's a gem in the middle of Chinatown," Lagumen concluded.

So for bringing arts and culture to Chinatown through poetry and theater, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Clara Hsu.

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