Bullying, eating disorders, teen suicide, drug use, and homosexuality are just some of the themes that the Alumni Theater Company tackled in its poignant rendition of Bert V. Royal’s “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.”
The production, which premiered in August 2004 at the Soho Playhouse as part of Fringe NYC, imagines characters from the Peanuts comic strip as teenagers.
The play was one of several components of the theater’s fifth annual I Am Artist Performance Showcase, which ran from Oct. 19 to Nov. 2. This was the first year that a play was incorporated into the event.
“We do singing and dancing but we don’t usually do a play during this showcase,” explained Hallie Donner, Alumni Theater Company founder and director. “The play was chosen and directed by ATC alum Michaelangelo Taylor. To see him come back and want to help the kids in the theater company makes me very happy.”
By using the Peanuts characters, the themes in the play are over dramatized and the audience is able to get a laugh. Issues like bullying are no laughing matter.
“There seems to be a feeling of hurt in our generation,” said Shakara Wright who portrayed CB’s sister in “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.” “Friendships are easily broken and families should pull together. People should have a concern for others and realize that what you say can really hurt someone.”
“These issues are close to home for some of these kids,” Donner said.
Aspiring actor and musician Shamari Nevels, 17, agrees with Donner whom he affectionately calls Momma D.
“A lot of the abuse of language can destroy other people,” Nevels said. “People need to know that that is not ok. People who say those kinds of things pick on other people because they are not happy with themselves.”
While the first part of the showcase shone the spotlight on the students’ acting talents, the second half brought focused on their dance prowess by showcasing short dance pieces choreographed by ATC members.
“The goal of this showcase is for students to express themselves, push boundaries and grow as artistic individuals. We are always pushing the students to the next level,” explained ATC Musical Director Bridgette Perdue.
Alumni Theater’s mission is to create work that represents the perspective of young artists growing up in an urban environment. ATC’s body of work strives to capture the ideas, interests, and struggles of the current generation of teenagers. ATC provides quality performing arts training for talented, committed youth in grades 6-12 in a highly creative, challenging and supportive setting.
The non-profit theater company is currently in its fifth season of operation and has performed 20 productions since its creation.
Next up, ATC will be working with actor Bill Nunn on some August Wilson monologues.
The company was recently awarded the Citizen Service Award by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The award honors individuals and organizations that demonstrate a strong commitment to addressing local challenges and improving the quality of life in Pittsburgh. Winners are given a proclamation and a letter of thanks from Mayor Ravenstahl.
“I’m very honored to find that we are receiving this,” Donner said. “It makes us feel like we are doing something right.”
(For more info on Alumni Theater Company, visit www.alumnitheatercompany.org.)