Taro Alexander, Founder, has stuttered since the age of five, and truly understands the physical, social, and emotional impact of stuttering. In 2001, Taro fulfilled his life-long dream, establishing SAY to help change the lives of young people who stutter. In 2008, Taro launched Camp SAY to provide kids and teens with another transformative, confidence-building experience. Taro is widely recognized for his work with people who stutter and has led workshops, master classes, and performances across the world.
Taro was raised in Washington, DC and since founding SAY, many professional milestones have brought him back to DC: In 2002, Taro received the Charles Van Riper Award at The Kennedy Center from the National Council on Communicative Disorders. In 2008, Taro and SAY came back to DC to perform at Union Station as part of the VSA Arts Start with the Arts Family Festival. In 2017, Taro and SAY once again returned to DC to receive the prestigious National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award, which cited SAY as one of the ten best Creative Youth Development Programs in the country. This is the nation’s highest honor for these programs and is presented through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in cooperation with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Taro has presented to the DeVos Institute’s Fellows numerous times over the years, sharing his knowledge of the non-profit arts with the next generation of artists. As a child growing up in DC, Taro performed at the Studio Theater, the Kennedy Center, and The National Zoo.
An accomplished performer, teacher, and director, Taro’s artistic impulses were encouraged by his parents from an early age, and his interest in contributing to social change was greatly influenced by the work of his father, the late Bobby Alexander, who founded the legendary Living Stage Theatre Company in DC. Taro attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts for four years and graduated in 1991 with honors. A week after graduating High School Taro moved to NYC to pursue a career in the theater. Four months later, at the age of 19, Taro was cast in his first professional role in the national tour of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers and enjoyed a successful performing career, including four years in the smash show STOMP, plus appearances on NBC’s Law & Order.
Taro was the keynote speaker at the 2005 National Association of Young People Who Stutter (Friends) Conference. Taro has also been featured on NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show, WNBC, and in the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Associated Press. Taro is a proud husband and devoted father to three amazing children.
Leigh Pennebaker, Associate Director, has been involved with SAY since the lead-up to its founding in 2001. She graduated from Millsaps College earlier that year with a BA in Studio Art, a background that prepared her to serve as the costume designer of the very first SAY shows, while also volunteering her time as a teaching artist and member of the backstage crew. Over the subsequent decades, she has taken on many roles with the organization, and her favorite job of them all has been working as Director of Art at Camp SAY. Since the summer of 2016, Leigh has found the perfect balance of creativity and community at Camp SAY. Camp brings out young people’s openness to try new things and experiment with materials and techniques. It also fuels their eagerness to work together to create something beautiful and unexpected. Seeing kids inspire each other, bravely venture into unfamiliar territory together, surprise themselves with their own abilities, and ultimately get hooked on the creative process reminds Leigh of why she follows the path of the Artist, herself.
Leigh grew up around art and artists and all her life she has avidly loved to draw and paint. In her early twenties, she became fascinated with wire as a medium and used it to create a series of sculptures based on her fascination with fashion design and figure drawing. In 2004, her sculpture was discovered by Simon Doonan, legendary window-dresser and Creative Ambassador-at-Large of the New York City-based clothing store, Barney’s. Doonan commissioned her to create dozens of custom wire sculptures for the windows of Barney’s flagship Madison Avenue store. Around that time, her work also popped up in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC, Calypso (Lower East Side), Fragments (Soho), Shreve Crump and Lowe (Boston), and in print in the pages of the Bergdorf Goodman beauty catalogue and House and Garden Magazine, among other publications. Her work was included in several group shows in New York and Provincetown, and was displayed on the walls at the The Daily Show: With Jon Stewart. Leigh’s work is in numerous private collections across the US and Europe.
Becoming a mother to three wonderful humans opened up a world of new creative interests and understanding. As a parent, Leigh’s passion for babywearing and her eye for color, design, and craftsmanship led her to work as a consultant, designer, and brand strategist for boutique baby carrier company, Sakura Bloom. After six years there and working her way up to the role of Vice President, she left in 2016 to pursue independent projects and re-focus on her own creative endeavors. In 2018 she co-curated an exhibit in Brooklyn that featured work by women artists exploring themes around motherhood. In 2019 she joined the SAY: DC team as Associate Director, and also serves as Associate Director of Camp SAY Across the USA.
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