Club founder and founding member pursue their dreams

Lisa Hodge Kander and Leah Walsh spent more than a decade together in the 1990s, creating some of Michigan's most ambitious youth theatre productions through the Class Act Drama 4-H Club of Oakland County.

The commencement stages they crossed were 600 miles apart, but their graduation events celebrated a shared passion for the theatre. Lisa Hodge Kander and Leah Walsh spent more than a decade together in the 1990s, creating some of Michigan’s most ambitious youth theatre productions through the Class Act Drama 4-H Club of Oakland County.

The club’s first production was “The Taming of the Shrew,” in which 9-year-old Walsh played Tranio, a role that required her to conceal her gender with a drawn-on moustache. Kander, a 4-H volunteer, directed the show and demonstrated her extraordinary talent for helping young actors bring the words of Shakespeare to life. That first joint effort was in 1992.

In May of 2009, both women completed rigorous academic programs in the performing arts. Kander earned her Ph.D in Theatre from Wayne State University, completing a dissertation on the impact of theatre experiences upon young people in limited-resource communities. Walsh completed a four-year graduate-level program at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, graduating as a member of the Group 38 Drama Division. These accomplishments are highlights in the often intersecting paths of a 4-H member and club leader who developed a close connection that has lasted more than 17 years.

“I am extremely lucky to have Lisa as one of the strongest figures in my life,” Walsh said. “She has not only been my mentor, but also like a second mother to me.”

When Walsh was younger, she and Kander performed nearly two dozen plays together at venues such as the Michigan Renaissance Festival and the Dickens Festival in Holly. The Class Act Drama 4-H Club and its members earned numerous accolades, including the State 4-H Award for Performing Arts. Walsh won the state award as an individual, and was also chosen to serve as the Oakland County 4-H Fair Queen during her years as a club member.

Often mentors make the most impact through their actions, as Kander did in her work with young people. Her commitment to lifelong learning is exemplified through her previous educational pursuits, including earning a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Michigan State University, honing her skills as a professional actor at the Drama Studio of London and participating in a cross-cultural learning experience at the Moscow Art Theater School. She has volunteered countless hours of her time to help young people find their voice on stage.

Walsh has done her part to give back to the community and share her skills as well. She has provided theatre experiences in classrooms, volunteered her time to community outreach activities such as V-Day and traveled to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to bring performing arts activities to families who were struggling to rebuild. She did all of this while maintaining a busy schedule of classes, rehearsals and performances.

Prior to being accepted into Juilliard, Walsh graduated from the theater program at the University of Evansville and spent a summer performing at the Chautauqua Theater Conservatory. According to Walsh, her experiences in 4-H played a major role in her journey to become a professional actress with an agent.

“4-H taught me so much, because you learn by actually doing things,” she said. “The process of judging and countless interviews I went through certainly help me now that I’m auditioning, having regular job interviews and needing to network as much as possible.”

Congratulations to Lisa Kander and Leah Walsh for their accomplishments – they both deserve their name in lights!

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