Leslie Berra has always had a big heart for children who perform in theater. As a member of the Canyon Theatre Guild, Berra could be found working with the children’s groups or helping backstage.
In 2007, Berra created a program to reward the young people who worked both onstage and behind the scenes.
She launched The Gift of Song, offering vocal and theatrical opportunities for the young participants to perform in their own show. Admission was free, refreshments were homemade cookies and desserts and patrons who wanted to make a contribution brought donations for the SCV Food Pantry.
She did this until 2013 when she and her family moved to Tennessee, where she continues to be involved with kids and theater. She established The Gift of Song in her new hometown and uses the money raised for local charitable causes including a non-profit community theater and to a young man battling Stage 4 cancer.
Even though she lives across the country, Berra found time to return to the SCV and do Gift of Song concerts twice a year for her “alumni” and some adult supporters. But this year Berra’s coming to Santa Clarita to help raise funds for a college scholarship that bears her family name.
“Back For The Future — A Gift Of Song” will be performed at the Canyon Theatre Guild on Wednesday, Oct. 17, with the profits funding the Berra Family Scholarship for the Performing Arts, which is administered by the SCV Scholarship Foundation. It is specifically for students who plan to study and work in the field of performing arts and either performed or worked tech on shows in theater or music – giving their gift of talent to the community.
For Berra, it’s a feeling of coming full circle.
Leslie and her husband, Bob, moved to Santa Clarita shortly after they married in 1985. She commuted to CBS Studios in the valley until the birth of her first child – Nikki, in 1991. She worked at home for a couple of years before she decided to quit work and give her full attention to child rearing. Her son Jackson was born in 2001.
Berra brought her young daughter to an audition at the Canyon Theatre Guild, and there she found her calling.
“I am from a musical family and I had done a theater and music when I was growing up,” Berra said. “At CTG, I was especially attached to helping kids because I was so lucky to be able to stay at home with mine.”
The Gift of Song was developed because Berra wanted to give the theater kids a chance to break out of their shells, so to speak. The youngsters were able to pick their own songs and just run with it, she said. The kids loved it.
Casey Christianson was one of those theater kids. She recently commented on Facebook that Leslie fueled her desire to change the lives of children. She currently works at a preschool.
Kathi Lund watched the children perform over the years and saw them grow and their confidence develop with each performance. On Facebook, she commented that Leslie and the Gift of Song had a huge impact on the children and herself. Lund’s son, Tom, currently manages the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Carol Rock was one of several Canyon Theatre Guild members who wanted to give the Berras a special gift when they moved. The Berra Family Scholarship Fund for the Performing Arts was created.
“Leslie received lots of certificates and framed things — including the President’s Volunteer Service Award — and we knew they didn’t need something that they’d have to move or dust, so I spearheaded the formation of a scholarship,” Rock said.
There have been four scholarships granted so far.
The first recipient of the scholarship was Scott Hicken. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Media Studies. Hicken is now employed with Circuit Media.
Berra said she is thrilled to hear about Scott and remembers him in one of her shows when he was 5. “To see him grow (in this field) has been really cool,” she said.
Berra is excited about bringing the Gift of Song back to the CTG.
“The community meant the world to me,” she said. “I’ve called in kids who haven’t performed for me for six or seven years and I can make this work. I hope to fund the scholarship for several years.”
For more information or to purchase tickets to Back For The Future — A Gift Of Song, log onto to www.eventbrite.com. The performance will be held at the Canyon Theatre Guild, 24242 Main St. Newhall. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; admission includes a petit buffet and no-host bar. Donations to the Berra Family Scholarship for the Performing Arts can be made through the SCV Scholarship Foundation at P.O. Box 220236, Santa Clarita 91322. Please note that the donation is specifically for the Berra Family Scholarship.