Pre-Teens Empower the Silent Majority on the Stage

assArmed with the inventive minds of pre-adolescents, a local theater company is invigorating a struggling community and promoting positive values. The Manton Avenue Project (MAP) is a non-profit group that gives underprivileged children from the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence a creative outlet by introducing them to the dramatic arts. Started in 2004, MAP features a number of free programs that enable children to conceive and script their own plays. The amazing part about MAP is that these efforts are then put into full-scale productions by local theater professionals. MAP’s latest offering is Be My Ally: The Upstander Play, and will examine the perennial problem of bullying and ways to address it.

According to stopbullying.gov, between 25% and 30% of students admit to being victims of bullying in school; close to 75% of students admit to bearing witness. Sadly, most young people stand by and do nothing while their peers are tormented. Be My Ally discusses the root of bullying and presents a number of bullying scenarios and solutions. With help from local anti-bullying group Talk Works, MAP hosted a bully prevention day in honor of Martin Luther King Day on January 20. “The students discussed two important roles: bystanders and upstanders,” writes MAP VISTA volunteer Elicia Welsh in a blog post. “A bystander is someone who watches bullying and does nothing to help … an upstander is someone who sees a bullying situation and takes action in helping to stop the bully.” The play aims to turn bystanders into upstanders by empowering the silent majority.

Be My Ally was created by nine fifth-grade students in MAP’s six-week playwriting course known as the “Tag Team” program. The young playwrights hash out the basic outline and characters as a team and then split up, each writing one act. The show will include some of Rhode Island’s finest actors, including Melissa Bowler, Nicole Maynard, Melissa Penick, Kelly Seigh, and Clara Weishahn, and will be directed by Elemental Theatre Collective founding member David Rabinow. The Saturday show will feature a special performance from acclaimed children’s performer Keith Munslow, while Sunday will feature Talk Works.

The play will be an entertaining and educational look at a serious problem for many children, as MAP continues to prove that lack of opportunity never means lack of creativity.

Be My Ally: The Upstander Play runs from February 14 through 16; Fri. at 7pm, Sat. at 3pm, Sun at 3pm, at the Met School and the Media and Art Center, 325 Public St. in Providence. Tickets are pay-what-you can.

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