Clay Rowden’s persona is opposite of Emmett, the character he plays in “Aftermath,” a play recently presented at the Tyler Civic Theatre by a teen acting troupe.
Unlike his muse, he’s outgoing, social and well liked. Emmett is an outcast, a wallflower, a loner.
His existence, and then nonexistence, leaves audiences with questions about society, bullying and each person’s value in the world.
With busy lives, and a global community connected through social media, it’s easy for some to become hidden or forgotten. Director Justin Purser said in today’s world, adolescents seem to have it tougher than years before.
“We get so wrapped up in those things that we sometimes forget to recognize people and things around us,” he said. “And sometimes we don’t realize we’re doing that until it’s too late — when that thing or person disappears.”
When two men in suits escort Emmett out of class, the students provide numerous theories to the audience — from alien abduction to a conspiracy. The audience is left to draw its own conclusion about why he was disliked and what happened to him. Did he die? Did he devise his own plan to prove a point?
Rowden, 15, said his role is complicated.
“It’s taken a lot of introspective thoughts to pull this out of it,” he said. “I used to think bullying is no big deal. People just need to be tougher, not to make a big deal out of things, but what this play has taught me is that bullying can really drive someone to do things that they really wouldn’t do otherwise. It made me see it from a different perspective.”
The 10-member troupe, Knights of the Round Theatre, comprises area students, with most attending area private schools or who are homeschooled.
They’ve performed “Aftermath” this week and have one more showing today at 2:30 p.m. at the Tyler Civic Theatre.
The play, written by Jonathan Dorf, features the monologues and scenes as the cast speculates about the whereabouts of Emmett.
This is the troupe’s last fundraising effort, ahead of a competition, the TNT Youth Conference — in Boerne. It’s their first time to participate and they’ll compete with 15 other youth companies from across Texas.
“It’s definitely interesting when you have a group of kids who love theater with a passion,” said Lexie Rains, a 17-year-old actor. “We get to go somewhere else and experience fun things together and learn from other groups.”
Miss Rains has acted nearly her entire life and has participated in one-act plays at her school.
Miss Rains said she believes everyone has experienced bullying — whether they were the person being bullied or the person doing the bullying.
“I think that bullying is an issue that not only affects kids in school but even adults,” she said. “When the behavior is enforced in high school, it carries all the way through your adult years.”
For those who are not bullied, they still have a role in ending it, she said.
“It just highlights that you may not know that you’re the problem, but if you’re not the one bullying and you don’t do anything about it, you’re not helping bring a solution,” Miss Rains said. “I think the major takeaway from this story is to watch out for people and stand up for people, even if they’re not your friends.”
She said, even in small towns or small schools, it’s impossible to know what someone is going through, which is why it’s important be kind.
“Words mean a lot to someone,” she said. “You may think that it’s really insignificant, but calling someone something or ignoring someone, or excluding someone can be something that could impact them for the rest of their life, not just through high school.”
The play also helps students feel they’re a part of a community, she said.
“I think this show enforces that sense of community and it makes us remember not to leave anyone out,” she said.
For all involved with the play, they just want people of all ages to show compassion.
“I want people to understand that everyone needs to be loved,” Rowden said. “No one needs to go through life without anyone else and no one needs to be forgotten.”