Originally created 06/08/01

Message play taken to youth centers



The Augusta Mini Theatre is taking its show on the road.

The troupe's 19-member touring cast has set off on the Pickin' tour, staging the play in 18 youth detention centers across Georgia. The play was tested in April at six centers in Augusta, Wrightsville and Sandersville, Ga.

Pickin', written by Tyrone Butler, founder and executive director of the theater, is a one-act play set in a high school. It centers on Billy, an above-average student who is plagued by emotional, physical and social hardships. His peers see him as a target, and he is forced to deal with peer pressure and teasing. Billy eventually snaps under the pressure.

Mr. Butler said young people have changed little since he went to school in Augusta. "They're probably still teasing, still calling people the same types of names, and they're still looking for the weaker person and they are picking on that person," Mr. Butler said. "Based on things I've read in the newspapers and I've seen on the national news, the young people who are violent against other students had been picked on.

"So, I thought maybe young people locally need to see, get a demonstration, of seeing other people picking on other people and see how it hurts. Maybe, if they see how it hurts, it may not stop it but it might make them think."

The play tour began in Rome, Ga., on Wednesday and will finish in Ocilla, Ga., on June 27.

Usually, when the cast goes into the youth centers, everyone - guards and the young inmates - is tense. As the play goes on, they seem to relax. By the end of the performance, it almost does not feel like a prison anymore, said Mr. Butler.

Mr. Butler was approached by a young man who asked if anyone had been into his private file because the play resembled his life so much. Another young man even called Mr. Butler from jail requesting a recommendation to an Albany theater group.

"I think I have my ears to the ground as to what young people are facing and going through," Mr. Butler said.

He lives in Barton Village, where he gets a lot of his play ideas. "So, the plays that we write are very relevant to what young people are going through."

The Augusta Mini Theatre, founded by Mr. Butler in 1975, is a nonprofit arts agency and offers classes in piano and drama. Mr. Butler's plays have been staged in youth centers for the past eight years. The plays include The Johnny Williams Story, Who's Killing the Dream? and Before and After the Storm.

Reach Valerie Rowell at (803) 279-6895 or valmac007@hotmail.com.



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