Color of Me

Cast of Color of Me at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria (Photo: Steve Salik)

A new play written by Jim Gradillas and Michelle Marie premieres this month at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria. Gradillas heads the theater company and is directing this work, which follows seven youth “dealing with stereotypes and prejudice in their daily lives.” Their stories are told, says Gradillas, in “a creative and abstract way.”

“I’m a Hispanic male and I have experienced racism throughout my life,” shares Gradillas. “Now, working with kids, I see stereotypes and bullying.” The play has a simple take-home message: Stop. Gradillas recommends it for tweens and up, noting that it’s “pretty intense subject matter.”

Characters in the play are discriminated against for all sorts of things — having parents who aren’t legal immigrants, being gay, having a developmental disability, dating someone of a different race and more. Gradillas hopes youth who see it will stop judging others based on how they look or act.

Marie says that writing the play allowed her to put feelings, experiences and challenges on paper. “This is my own therapy,” reflects Marie — who says she relates to all of the characters. “I had to take different parts of myself and my life to create all these people.”

She hopes the work will help others “put faces to the lives of those we make jokes about” and “humanize the people we have been desensitized to.” Marie wants more folks to remember that “we are all human” — with feelings, thoughts and genuine ideas.

“Color of Me” opens on Fri, Jan.20 and runs through Sat, Jan. 28 at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria. Four additional shows will round out the rest of their 2011/12 season — “Count the Moon: A Minstrel’s Tale,” “Mister E!,” “Tortoise and the Hare: The Great Race,” and “Happy Days.”

Their “2012 Playfest,” featuring 11 ten-minute works by young playwrights, takes place Jan. 28 & 29 — and each marathon of plays is followed by a Q & A session with writers and directors.

Creative Stages Youth Theatre also offers theater classes and workshops, including those taking place Jan-April at Sunrise Mountain Library and Peoria Main Library. The free acting workshops for ages 8-12 are taught by Gradillas one Saturday each month.

To learn more about Creative Stages Youth Theatre offerings, visit them online at www.csyt.org.

— Lynn

Coming up: Writer, writer on the wall…

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