When Tyrone Butler started writing plays for his troupe to perform at the Augusta Mini Theatre, he didn’t realize they fell into a particular genre.
A representative at a publishing company once called them “social-awareness plays.”
All Butler knew was that he enjoyed writing about issues that affect so many families today.
As founder of The Augusta Mini Theatre, Butler works closely with youth – many of them underprivileged – and sees first-hand the problems facing youth and their families.
“I’m very in tune to what’s going on out there,” Butler said.
His newest play is The Parents of Tabatha Tutt vs. DJ Smoke. Recently, he heard a song on the radio with lyrics so explicit it shocked him. He talked with some of the kids at the theater about the song, and they were embarrassed to know he heard it.
“They know something ain’t right,” Butler said.
That became the basis for the play, which will be performed this weekend.
The title character is “a good girl,” a preteen who loves hanging out with her friends and singing in the church choir. But one day she is exposed the DJ Smoke show, on which the disc jockey plays popular music, and Tutt becomes swept up in it.
By the time she is 17, the girl has frequently won the local dance contest and earned herself the nickname “Nasty Girl.” She becomes pregnant with her fourth child before dropping out of high school and contracts an STD. While her friends are going off to college, Tutt is collecting food stamps and trying to get Section 8 housing for her growing brood.
Her parents blame the music spun by DJ Smoke and take him to court for leading their daughter down the wrong path.
The outcome of the case is decided by the audience, who will be invited to discuss the situation and cast their vote during intermission for case’s outcome.
“It’s a universal theme. Parents are saying these lyrics are destroying our kids,” Butler said.
Many of Butler’s plays speak about issues that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for, he said.
A previous play called Pickin’ was about bullying, and it related to the struggle for equal opportunity for blacks, Butler said.
Tabatha Tutt is about the freedom to make music, but that its modern music’s influence on children to drop out of school flies in the face of King’s struggle for equal education.
“So many people died for that opportunity to go to school, now here we are dropping out of school, or having children while still in school,” Butler said. “While you’re doing that (you’re) not taking advantage of that opportunity. I’m sure (Dr. King) would say, ‘Hey, this is not what we fought for.’”
Butler started the theater in 1975 as a variety show at a local library. It has grown into a multi-discipline arts prgram that is housed in a $3.2 million facility. Children attend classes in art, drama, dance, visual arts and music.
The plays Butler writes not only open issues for discussion within the community, but they are also intended to instill values in the children who perform them.
“We’re an arts agency, but we use the arts to deal with social issues,” he said.
The Parents of Tabatha Tutt vs. DJ Smoke will be peformed at The Augusta Mini Theatre Jan. 18-21 and Feb 16-17. For more information, including show times and ticket prices, visit augustaminitheatre.com.