A Fine Presentation Of A Stinky Story

The Stinky Story presented by Youth Apprentice Program of Unity Through Creativity Production, Inc. Dramatization by Karen McLean, artistic director. Featured actors Sidne Anderson, storyteller; Wayne McLean, Jerome Turner and Keith Bryant, ancestral spirits; Richard Sutton, good and evil boy; Valarie Burton, evil mother; Vicki Burton, evil aunt; Carla Wilson, good mother; Tracy Fredarick, good aunt. Prop manager was Bruce AHarris. Stage manager, Bruce Tinsley. At the Madison Park High Community School, July 28.

by Jeanne Belovitch

Nine youths ages 12 through 21 performed a West African folktale last week for a group of delighted South End and Roxbury children at the Madison Park High Community School.

The Stinky Story, a 20-minute dramatization, left a clear message to the six and seven-year-olds in the audience: Do not be greedy, selfish or jealous lest ill will comes your way. The drama begins with an old African woman played by Sidne Andersen, who recounts a tale about a good family and an evil family. Bongo drums accompany her with a short dance by two of the actresses.

Andersen is exceptional as the storyteller. Her staage presence, strong voice, warmth, and tall stature give us the impression of a talent more than her 14 years. This young lady has the makings of a fine actress. The rest of the roles, however, were not so well perfected. There was too much improvisation on the part of the good mother, making us think we were listening to a 1980s American city mother. Tracy Frederick, the good aunt, kept attention focused on her with her sincerity and control of character.

Getting back to the story, which was written by Karen McLean---people are starving from drought in an African village. The good auntie and mother send their son, Coffey, who doubles as the bad son to the Forbidding Meadow. There he will find fruit and vegetables to feed the village. In the Forbidding Meadow, Coffey meets three ancestral spirits who stink to high heaven. The spirits have been in the meadow for 2,000 years. They present Coffey with three flutes. He opts to keep the one he brought with him to the meadow. Then he plays beautiful music on the flute, making the spirits dance with happiness. The spirits now offer Coffey three bowls. Coffey takes the smallest bowl and leaves the Forbidding Meadow.

Upon his return home, the bowl becomes magical. The evil mother and auntie see this magical bowl and send their evil son into the Forbidding Meadow. He, too, finds the spirits. They present three flutes to him. He grabs them all, making cacophonous sounds. The stinky spirits cringe in horror, holding their ears. Then, they present to the evil boy three bowls. He grabs the largest one and kicks the other two aside. The stinky spirits are aghast. When the boy arrives home, the bowl turns into deadly snakes, killing him, his mother and auntie.

The ancestral "stinky" spirits were delightful creatures costumed in multi-colored waxed straw. Of all the characters, the children responded to htese the best.

One part of the drama, however, was disturbing: The physical pushing around of the good boy Coffey by the mother and auntie in their attempt to make him go to the Forbidding Meadow. Although the children found this activity humorous and responded readily to it, one must question whether we want to use drama to reinforce this kind of persuasion with young people.

These youths and six others who compose the Youth Apprentice Program, study theater,dance, writing, voice, theater arts, company management, and administration. During the summer months they perform throughout the city for day care centers, camps, teen organizations, and senior citizen groups under the ausices of Unity Through Creative Production,Inc.

Karen McLean, artistic director of the program and executive president of the corporation,came up with her idea in the summer of 1981.

"I started the Youth Apprentice Program because Proposition 2 1/2 cut back a lot of the aritistic programs in the community," she explains. "Since we had expertise and knowledge, we thought it would be a contribution."

McLean, who went after contracts to teach multi-cultural performing art studies in schools, presently is working with the Boston Public School System as well as with private and religious schools.

This summer is the first one that the youths performing during these months have been paid for their efforts. McLean says that she has been donating her earnings to keep the program intact. "Now it is eligible for funding," she adds.

Youth Apprentice Program also performs plays of a more adult nature. Ifyou're interested in booking a performance or reviewing the dramatic themes the group offers, contact Karen McLean at 445-3622.

Source: South End News, Boston, MA: 1983