Originally created 01/09/01

Theater group takes lesson on tolerance to the masses



Tolerance means more than just racial harmony.

That's the message the Augusta Mini Theatre will be promoting in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday with its annual performance of Pickin', a play designed to show that disparaging words do hurt.

"We say sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me - but words do hurt," said Tyrone Butler, who founded the Mini Theatre and wrote the play that stars 23 teen-age members of the company.

The cast, which includes teens from area schools, will present the play for school groups on Friday and will stage performances for the general public Friday through Sunday. The troupe also plans to take the show on the road this summer, touring and performing at Georgia's Youth Development Centers.

"I hope this play makes a lot of people think whenever they say something about the effect it will have on other people," said Anastacia DelValle, 16, who plays a drama teacher.

Pickin' follows the teasing that Billy, a student at the fictional T.W. Jay High School, has to endure, how it affects him and the drastic action he finally takes when it becomes too much. In a key scene, several of the actors caper around Jamal Walters, who plays Billy, pointing and laughing at him until they run off, leaving him shivering and trying not to cry.

The teens have been rehearsing since October, meeting at the Mini Theatre's Eighth Street location.

"Most people don't celebrate Dr. King's birthday - it's just a regular day that goes by," said Alison Wilson, 16, who plays the principal at Jay High School. "This is a way that helps me celebrate."

All of the teen-agers in the play emphasize that there's a lack of tolerance in schools.

"It happens at A.R. Johnson," 16-year-old Jamal said. "If it happens there, it can happen anywhere."

Although the play doesn't directly address race, the issue Dr. King is usually tied to in the public mind, it echoes deeper issues of tolerance that include race, economic background, physical differences and academic ability.

"Every year we do a play about tolerance because Dr. King was big on tolerance," Mr. Butler tells his assembled cast during a break at an evening rehearsal. "He worked so you would have the opportunity to have all kinds of friends, so when you look around you at school and see black students and white students and Italian students and whoever else, you can see that's true today. And that's what he died for."

On stage

What: Pickin', presented by the Augusta Mini Theatre Inc.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Jack B. Patrick Technology Center, Augusta Technical Institute, 3116 Deans Bridge Road

Admission: $8 general admission, $7 per youth and chaperone for youth groups. Call 722-0598 for information.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.