For the 11th year, Pittsburg High School’s Rep Theatre class is shining a spotlight on a national social issue in the form of an original theatrical performance.
This year, the theme is bias, hate, and discrimination, and it will come to life on stage at Memorial Auditorium, 503 N. Pine in Pittsburg, April 18 and April 20, under the direction of Greg Shaw, PHS theater teacher.
Past years have seen the class research and commission an original play by professional playwright Debbie Lamedman on timely topics such as school violence, eating disorders, climate change, bullying, prescription drug abuse, dating violence, Autism and differences, socio-economic diversity, technology addiction, and mental illness/depression. Their shows have drawn national attention and helped secure a national Character Education award for PHS.
Lamedman, who lives in Oregon, is also a director, acting coach, and author and editor of eight acting books.
This year's show is called "The Chasm Between Us: A close examination of bias, hate and discrimination in America.”
“The idea behind this piece is to present and portray various situations where we evidence discrimination, bias and hate in daily life,” Lamedman said.
For senior Miranda Madden, an award-winning member of the theatre program’s technical crew, it was a chance to be on stage again — something she doesn’t do often. It also was an eye-opening experience.
“I haven’t experienced bullying or discrimination, but I’ve struggled with self-image,” Madden said. “This play has really opened my eyes and shown me that everyone has a story. It’s made me realize that it’s OK and I’m not alone.”
“My character says, ‘We are all fighting the same battle every day. To love ourselves, as we are.’ The play has taught me that we’re all more alike than we are different, but those differences are what make us unique.”
In one scene, neighbors discussing a crime that happened the previous day blame a Muslim family.
“They don’t ever say anything rude straight to my character,” said Mona Estes, a sophomore who plays a member of the Muslim family, “but they definitely make me out to be a monster.”
Estes, who is African-American, said prior to being in the play, her definition of discrimination was limited to what she has experienced herself, including racism and sexism.
“But there is ageism and slandering those who have grown up in a different country,” she said. “Being in this play has opened my eyes to a lot of things. It’s also taught me to take more time to judge a person — their outside appearance does not always equal what’s inside. There’s a lot that I hope people learn from watching this play.”
Shaw said the show is relevant not just locally, but nationally. Data released by the FBI in 2017 indicate hate crimes are on the rise, particularly against Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people, the data shows. There were more than 6,100 reported incidents of hate crimes in 2016, up from 5,800 the year before, according to the report.
According to data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2015, white Americans use drugs more than black Americans, but blacks are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites. The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that black men receive prison sentences that are 19.5 percent longer than those of white men who committed the same crimes.
The 45-minute production will be appropriate for middle and high school aged students. After each show, the cast and community members will take the stage to conduct a 15- to 20-minute "talk-back" Q&A session with audience members, who may ask questions of the cast or the director.
There will be one public performance at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18. School performances will be held during the day on Friday, April 20. Schools should call Memorial Auditorium at 620-231-7827 prior to April 20 to register so seating can be reserved. There is no cost to attend and no tickets required. For more information, email Shaw at [email protected]