Troupe lets its young audience alter the endings of its skits

May 24, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The Just Say No troupe from Liberty High School dramatizes the negative but stresses the positive in its skits for elementary schoolchildren.

The 10-member group takes its message on the road to county schools and allows the members of its young audiences to rewrite the endings to its original dramas.

During hour-long presentations at Freedom, Runnymede and Sandymount schools last week, the students acted out scenes dealing with peer pressure, substance abuse, cheating on tests, shoplifting, vandalism and other conflicts that the younger children might encounter in their growing years.

"The group improvises skits to show kids they can say no and still be cool," said senior Agnes Mattegunta. "We care about these kids and want to help."

The cast was dressed in white or black T-shirts printed with "Just Say No to Drugs" or "Drugs Destroy." Many children in the audience wore red T-shirts that read, "I say no to drugs."

While each scene finished with the players making wrong choices, the troupe gave the young audience a chance to rework the ending.

"What could I have done?" junior Shawniqua Richardson asked the children after a scene that concluded with a teen-ager's arrest for shoplifting a gift.

Suggestions ranged from asking for more allowance money to shopping for something less expensive.

"Your gift is supposed to be from the heart," said one child. "Stealing isn't from the heart."

When Shawniqua and sophomore Maria Eppig replayed the scene, they used the children's ideas to resolve the character's conflict. "I don't want to steal," said Maria in an about-face. "I'll check out putting the locket on layaway until I have the money."

The actors sprawled across the stage as they sketched a typical high school party scene for the children. When coaxing from peers led a character to take her first drink, many children sighed.

Again the cast asked, "What would you do?"

The responses came readily: "Tell them they could get alcohol poisoning" and "Tell them it's illegal." Everyone clapped at another child's answer: "I don't want anybody dying from alcohol or drugs."

In a replay of the scene, Shawniqua, the lead character, walked away from the party.

"I thought I could make friends with you all, but if this is the way you act, I don't want anything to do with you," she said.

Kathy Schnorr, Liberty drama teacher and adviser to the troupe, said alcohol is a major problem for students as young as middle school.

Nearly all the high school students could recount an incident where drinking and driving had caused major problems.

In the final scene, two actresses shared an imaginary marijuana joint. The auditorium, filled with about 100 children, fell silent.

"Tell her to get out of your house if she wants to smoke," said one child at the conclusion.

After several skits and remakes, the troupe took time to talk with the children. Members of the cast introduced themselves with smiles and asked for questions from the children.

"You can ask us anything, including what size shoe I wear," said senior Mike Cutsail with a laugh.

The children took a more serious tack with, "Were you ever offered drugs?" Mike said he had overheard two students talking about "joints" recently and he "just stayed away."

While Mike advocated "showing you care" for friends who need help and guidance, he cautioned the children to remain firm in their resolve to avoid drugs. That sometimes means avoiding some people, he said.

"If you are the type who gets sucked in, don't hang around those people," said Shawniqua.

Ms. Schnorr said she hoped the children learned how better to handle peer pressure -- "a major factor in young lives."

"Make your decisions and stick by them," she said.

Maria reinforced her teacher's advice. "Say no the first time and every time," she said.

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