A year ago, Agustin Lira and Patricia Wells of Teatro de la Tierra were invited by The California Endowment to start an intriguing project. The goal was to create a theatrical group with Fresno youth that would raise the awareness of the problems negatively affecting the health of boys and young men of color.
The result was "The Conscience of a Bully," written by Lira, a 2007 National Heritage Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. It will be performed 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at EOC Sanctuary Stage Theatre.
"It was a real joy to rediscover the tremendous amount of talent and brainpower that exists in the children, teenagers and adults in our community," Lira says.
Here's a rundown:
The cast: There are 10 children between the ages of 6 and 14 and four adults in the show. None of the young people in the show had previous training in theater.
The storyline: A bully terrorizes younger students in a school. One day one of her favorite victims, Sammy, devises a plan to fight back. As the play unfolds it reveals different levels of bullying by students, teachers and administrators. There's a deeper political message as well: government spies who limit the constitutional and privacy rights of all.
The tone: Though the play covers serious issues, it also promises slapstick comedy and satire.
The creative process: Lira and Wells, the play's co-directors, asked the participants to speak about what they perceived as obstacles in their lives. "Aside from crime in the streets, drugs in the schools, violence and so on, the kids kept coming back to the experience of being bullied," Wells says. "I never realized the tremendous psychological damage that bullying could cause in a person and their development. I had to hold back my tears several times upon listening to the stories of the participants and how they still carried the pain of having been attacked physically and psychologically."
The bullying theme: Bullies have to be addressed and dealt with by society and the community, Wells says. There's no just wishing they'll go away on their own accord. "The root of the problem extends to the origins of the child and his or her family," she says. "There are answers to this problem, and we, the village, must all respond as caring parents, relatives, teachers, neighbors, and so on. This is our community and we can create a healthier environment to ensure that our youth can achieve their full potential in life."
The music: A total of 17 children and adults will play live music.
Lira, Wells and Ravi Knypstra of Trío Alma will play a few songs by Lira, including "Don't Come to Fresno if You're Homeless" and "When I Die (Don't you Cry)." The inter-generational group will play another song by Lira: "Ser Como el Aire Libre (To Be Free as the Wind)" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," among other popular tunes such as Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."
"The Conscience of a Bully," 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, EOC Sanctuary Stage Theatre, 2336 Calaveras St. (559) 485-8558. $5.