Anti-racist play ‘Mary Brave Eyes’ will head into Nevada County schools after Nugget Fringe Festival | TheUnion.com

Anti-racist play ‘Mary Brave Eyes’ will head into Nevada County schools after Nugget Fringe Festival

Accusations of racism, sexism and xenophobia have been dominating the headlines and social media feeds lately.

For former teacher and playwright Karen Leigh Sharp, it seemed like the right time to put together a production of a play she actually wrote more than four years ago — to stand up and break the cycle of racism and bullying.

That's why Sharp wrote "Mary Brave Eyes," a one-act play premiering at the Nugget Fringe festival this weekend. And that's why she went one step further and worked with producer Janine Martin to take the message into the county's middle schools.

"After the Fringe, we hit the schools, which to me is the most important part of this entire project," Sharp said.

"Hate crimes are on the rise across the country," she said, referencing an incident when a young black man, Imani Walker, was taunted last fall in downtown Grass Valley.

"It takes one town at a time to stand up to the bullies of racism," Sharp said.

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Sharp says that the play is partly autobiographical.

"This girl Mary had moved to town," Sharp said. "She was the first girl to beat me in a 50-yard dash."

That same day, Sharp said, she was walking home when she spotted Mary "being chased by a pack of boys, white boys. And at the tail end of the pack was my brother."

Sharp said she had a split second of wondering whose side was she on, adding, "It was never a question in my heart."

The boys chased Mary into a backyard, where she hid behind a gate.

"I could hear her breathing," Sharp said. "I realized I was protecting her."

That was a catalyst for her.

"We recreated this moment in the play," Sharp said. "It's pretty powerful."

In the play, Sharp said, the characters get to say the things she wishes her own mother and neighbors had said. She calls "Mary Brave Eyes" her apology to a girl whose family, she believes, eventually was run out of town.

"Mary Brave Eyes" will tour eight middle schools across Nevada County — Lyman Gilmore, Ready Springs, Nevada City School of the Arts, Magnolia, Grass Valley Charter, Union Hill, Seven Hills, and Yuba River Charter School — as an anti-bullying/racism awareness performance piece. Retired teacher Steve Roddy will provide teachers with an educational packet to prepare the students with civil rights history questions that are presented during the play.

The 16 students in the play were amazing in their willingness to delve into their responses to harassment, Sharp said.

"If you are a bystander, what choices are you going to make?" she said. "This is what we want to do with talk-back sessions at the schools. After they see the play, we ask them, 'What would you do?' You have to be able to get in and divert it, rather than fuel it. … We can't look the other way."

Sharp said the support and help from the community has been astonishing — with volunteers stepping forward to provide rehearsal space, set and sound design, even an enclosed truck to help haul sets and costumes from school to school.

"We're in a social revolution again — it's pretty exciting," she said. "I do hope it will fuel change."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

Know & Go

What: Mary Brave Eyes, a one-act play

Where: Off Center Theatre, 315 Richardson St., Grass Valley

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Jan. 25, 9:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and 12:30 p.m. Jan. 27

Tickets: $18

For info: Go to http://www.nuggetfringe.com” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”>http://www.nuggetfringe.com