Monday, January 21, 2008

The local cast performs several dances to demonstrate the power of bully ism. Most are local sstudents and residents ages 13 to 70. The Relevant Stage founder collaborated with the San Pedro Ballet Co. to perform some of the parts in a dance.


By Diana L. Chapman
Ray Buffer reminds me a bit of a cross between the determined "High Noon" savior, the dude who commits to a don’t-bury-your-head- in- the-sand -attitude and the buddy who shows up at your house and churns a light-evening gathering into a hot bed of social debates – the kind most want to flee from.
In a sort of Dickens-mannered approach -- the director of the newly founded Relevant Stage now housed at San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theater -- delves into ongoing social-ills as did the 1800s author who constantly hammered away through his writing that children worked in factories and starved in the streets of London. For Ray, he’s driven to the contemporary heart of hate, urging openness and discovery about why Ninja-dressed students gun down their peers on campus and other tragic student figures -- commit suicide -- from constant tormenting vocal darts.
Using his production company, the director wants to continually remind us that those horrors are not behind us. They are not just yesterday’s news. They are today’s news, tomorrow’s news and the news the day after that – at least until we face the misery and address these challenging issues now.
“Truth is really the crux of these stories,” explained the former manager of the Long Beach Opera who dropped everything to start his own theater company. “When you avoid these truths, you don’t fix the problem. Our mission is to engage the kids, challenge their hearts and expose the truth.”
That’s exactly the point of “Acts of Desperation,” and why I’m so interested in this production which will run at the Warner Grand Theater Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. The two acts – telling two entirely different stories – detail accounts of kids hurting, maiming and damaging one another – until, well, “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead,” the title of Act II.
It’s sad, but complete in its storytelling. And it's why I am actively encouraging hundreds of students to attend this performance—especially since Ray and the show’s director, Lucas Pake, offered schools 2,000 seats for free. The Long Beach school district has already booked half of those seats; Los Angeles Unified has been much slower on the uptake, which I hope to see change shortly.
Seventeen local actors and dancers, ranging in ages from 13 to 70, perform in the show, which paints the stories through acting and dance, choreographed by Cindy and Patrick Bradley, owners of the San Pedro Ballet Co.
The offer for students to attend should not be ignored as we are all skating along the walls of hostilities, that many say stem from racism, but in the end, really burst from that ghoulish word -- bully ism. It was a much used and heeded device on Hitler's front, when he attempted to take over the world.
But we still don't seem to understand just how deadly and powerful it is.

Despite attempts to squelch it, bullying continues to carry its ugly face, kicking around like the devil, in school corridor halls. Because adults don’t seem to resolve the problem, kids often lead themselves down darkened and sinister paths to find their own cure.
While some consider taunting and tormenting a “right of passage,” so to speak, a gauntlet that all kids have to go through, nothing could be further from the truth.
First, not all kids have to go through it. Second, how does any one ever expect for students to learn when they come to school riding waves of fear? I've always wondered about the how, and the why debates, about children failing in school. The first question I'd ask students is this: "Are you living in fear?"
You'd be surprised by the hundreds of kids who would answer yes and those are only the ones that are being truthful. And it doesn't matter where they live.

What's the cost when students find their own way out of this often-spiraling downward issue? A life, perhaps, maybe one or more. In the case of Act I, Rats and Bullies –a true story – a young British Columbia teenager, 14-year-old, Dawn-Marie Wesley, becomes the target of three vicious former friends who relentlessly torment her with no end in sight.
She at last finds relief; she hangs herself by a leash and her little brother, D.J. discovers her body. Dawn leaves behind a letter naming each one of her tormentors.
What are the consequences for the survivors? The parents’ divorce. D.J. becomes emotionally imbalanced. The girl’s best friend drops out of high school. And all three of the tormentors never finish high school, Ray explained, who has extensive knowledge of the case, because his wife, Roberta McMillan, an actress and film maker, shot a documentary that detailed the 2000 suicide. The documentary aired in 2003.
His wife, having been bullied in school herself, had a vested interest in revealing the story in the hopes that it would prevent other such incidents.
Act II, “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” describes the composite story of a teenager, named Josh, who first kills his parents and then shoots five students at his high school using a hunting rifle.
Again, Ray selected this play written by William Mastrosimone , to reveal the actions and consequences and why we must face and discuss these issues to try and prevent them.
“It’s not the type of show where people will say: “I enjoyed the show.” But what the directors want is to provoke discussion. In fact, for the student shows, the directors plan to haven a panel of police and gang abatement officials to have a round-table with the students.
“This is a one-two punch and it really strikes home,” Ray revealed, saying the levels of torment have heightened with the advent of technology. “High school has never been harder and people prefer to sweep all this under the rug. But the technology we have today, e-mail, text-messaging, video games give the kids the tools to be that much more aggressive.”
At least six dancers from the San Pedro Ballet Co. will darn the stories on stage; two San Pedro High School students also are performing in the production.
From a dance perspective, Cindy Bradley of the San Pedro Ballet Co., said this type of program gives her teenage dancers the chance to explore their art while learning about such painful issues.
“It gives them the opportunity to express the emotions from within,” she said. “San Pedro, as a community, is ready for an edgy production such as this…I believe it will help them relate to the art and hopefully provide some insight into the subject matter.”
I’m wishing Ray and his performers much success to provide San Pedro live performances at the Warner Grand. Relevant Stage will launch four more productions after this, all dealing with some type of social injustice or trouble.
Relevant Stage came together in a peculiar way.
While living in Huntington Beach, Ray had wandered into San Pedro one day and visited the Warner Grand for his first time. He fell in love with the theater – which he had never heard of before – and thought it “ a palace.” Soon after, he opted to leave his job as the manager of Long Beach’s opera and form the Relevant Stage.
It was a huge risk – but Ray believed he was ready and also understood that he needed to carve out a different niche. Instead of doing the “old war horses,” such as "The Sound of Music," he would embrace newer, and socially-driven pieces.
After "Acts of Desperation," four more powerful stories will be launched at the Warner Grand: "Over There Over Here," "Urine Town" "Bat Boy" and "Reinventing Eden."

Tickets for any of the events can be purchased at: Tickets range from $5 for any one under the age of 18. For the first show, adults will cost $15 and seniors $10. Adult admissions for shows thereafter are $35 and $30 for seniors and college students. (Tickets for anyone under 18, will remain at $5.) Tickets can be purchased at Sacred Grounds Coffee House and Williams Bookstores, both on Sixth Street.

Monday, January 07, 2008

To left, Anna, 4, and sister, Jillian, make gingerbread houses that their babysitter, Kristin Matulich, below brought them.



By Diana L. Chapman

Kristin Matulich babysat Jillian Litton and her sister a few times to know she had fallen for the little sprite. The day she was informed the 23-month-old toddler had a rare form of leukemia in October, she began to relive the horror of her own mother having kidney cancer.

Both her mother – a cancer survivor—and Kristin commiserated how horrific this news was for the young tot, who would now struggle with repeated rounds of chemotherapy and undergo a battery of tests, including spinal taps.

She also knew she adored Jillian’s determined little spirit and was frustrated that she could not become a potential bone marrow donor for her, because the teenager wasn’t old enough. Bone marrow donors have to be at least 18.

Still, Kristin desperately wanted to help.

Pondering what she could do, a friend and neighbor suggested that she remember Jillian needed blood as well as possibly bone marrow – and maybe Kristin could do something much bigger than giving her own blood -- she could organize a blood drive.

This is exactly what the babysitter did – and not only that – she convinced about 100 some San Pedro high school students to donate their blood as well. This Saturday, the blood drive will be held at Ocean View Baptist Church, 1900 S. Western Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public.

As far as Kristin is concerned, it was the least she could do. She roamed from classroom to classroom at San Pedro High school before the holidays, asking other students who were at least 17-years-old to participate.

And despite being somewhat nervous about it, when she called Millers Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, not only were hospital officials accommodating, they offered to do the blood drive instead of using the Red Cross.

Bingo. That sold Kristin on the spot, because now she knew she wasn’t only helping Jillian, she was helping scores of kids whose lives have become entwined with the nearby pediatric hospital. Local children will receive the blood, she said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people,” Kristin explained to me while attending a highly successful bone marrow donor drive last Saturday for Jillian and other children who might need it. “A lot of (students) told me they are afraid of needles.

“I’d tell them: “Hey, you wouldn’t hesitate if it was your little sister. Or I’d say: ‘Jillian's going to have 12 spinal taps by the end of this. What’s a little needle?”

Her outreach at the school scored at least 100 sign-ups for the drive, which is opened to the public for anyone in good health, over the age of 17 and who has not received a tattoo within the last year.

Contacting Jillian’s mother, Michelle Litton described the babysitter as one of the most “compassionate, generous, enthusiastic and driven people I’ve ever met.”

Wishing she could give Kristin an award, Michelle explained: “She has done more for others in her 17 years than many people do in a lifetime. From the moment she heard about Jillian she has been giving her time and attention to our family. She assembled gingerbread houses for my girls to decorate when Jill was last at home and they had so much fun with her! … She has offered on numerous occasions to baby sit... If my girls grow up to be half the person Kristin is, I would be over the moon.”

What an incredible kid!

She deserves much credit for forging ahead and getting past her own fears. I was delighted to meet her at the bone marrow drive, which had an amazing turn out. About 220 people got “swabbed,” last Saturday meaning they swabbed the inside of their cheek to see if they might be a match for Jillian or scores of other kids who might need a bone marrow transplant. About 170 people showed up for a similar drive a week earlier in Torrance.

The Littons’ friend, Shana Ghekiere, was one of many who lead the charge to run the bone marrow drive and was also the person who suggested Kristin do a blood drive. She’s one of a long cast of characters who’ve stood up to help the Littons – which is what we all need to do in these times of need. The friends have been relentless at helping out, even holding garage sales to help defray the costs for those who agreed to be swabbed as a potential bone marrow donors.

Typically, individuals are charged $52 to register to become a donor. That didn't sit well with the Litton's friends, who made enough money to pay for every individual that registered.

Jillian’s mom put this story best. All these drives, from the bone marrow to blood drive, help many other kids besides her daughter.

“This is so great for Millers (hospital) and so many kids,” she wrote. “We’re just putting a face on a cause.” And then added, somewhat sheepishly, a “mighty cute face if I do say so myself.”

If you had the chance to meet Jillian, you couldn’t help but agree. That little imp is a go-getter who does’t seem to agree with anyone that she’s sick. And perhaps this little heart will triumph over all the odds she has to face – especially when she has teenage friends like Kristin.

To learn more, visit these links:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008



By Diana L. Chapman

Standing near the tiger exhibit, my sister and I watched a gorgeous tiger peacefully lick its paws at Wild Animal Park in San Diego until this woman came along. She began to bob back-and -forth like a toy jack-in the box. Despite the fact the tiger was increasingly agitated, the woman kept springing – mercilessly.

Suddenly, the tiger pounced directly at the woman while giving off a blood-curdling roar that brought other visitors running. The fence is all that kept her from becoming a bloody piece of meat, unlike what happened at the San Francisco Zoo recently. But did the beast deserve this teasing? And should my sister and I stopped her once we caught on?

Perhaps this is what the San Fransisco catastrophe will teach us. After Tatiana, a 300 pound Siberian beauty, escaped from her grotto after 5 p.m. Christmas day and slashed and killed a 17-year-old and attacked two of his friends, now is the time to bring us to a reality check about what some zoo patrons do to these animals that we are so privileged to see.

At these facilities, animals are constantly subjected to taunting, teasing and torturous behavior from many zoo visitors, while the rest of us look on wondering what we are supposed to do. Some visitors will do anything to get a spark from animals, who unfortunately have no choice in the matter. The rest of us -- visitors who don’t enjoy watching such sport -- are at a loss as to what to do as zoo security always seems abysmally far, far away.

Now is the time to stop this behavior – and it’s so simple. While zoo officials blame lack of funds for added security, there’s a way in which zoo patrons can help, such as the day we spotted a young man at a Seattle-area zoo roaming around inside the polar bear exhibit to show off to his friends. Lucky for him, he got out alive. Had a number been posted, I suspect many visitors would have pulled out their cells and reported the incident.

In the news following Tatiana's attack, the father of the slain boy said he didn’t know what happened at the zoo, but made a poignant remark about zoo officials two most major duties.

The first duty, he said, is to protect the public; The second duty is to protect the animals from the public.

While investigations thus far have not proved either way whether Tatiana was provoked, a foot print was discovered over the side of the rail. Perhaps, despite the high cost of one dead tiger and the 17-year-old she killed, a brilliant spotlight will finally focus on an issue that has long gone ignored.

Had there been signs about who to call, I’m sure that teenager crawling around with the polar bears might have thought twice before managing to get inside. The same is true if someone relentlessly torments an animal. Visitors could easily report it to security if a contact number was posted all over the zoo . It’s simple. It’s cheap – and it’s a way to protect animals and stupid humans from their own actions.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve stumbled on the taunting myself.

One day at the Los Angeles Zoo, I came around the bend with my son to discover a group of young men throwing branches at an alligator resting quietly in a pond. That was bad enough.
But then one of the teens picked up a giant tree branch, leaned perilously over the rail and began to poke at the animal’s eyes.

I was outraged and knew security would be impossible to reach in time. I began yelling at the kid to get down and leave the alligator alone. Suddenly, him and his friends surrounded me and the teenager yelped: “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?” Said another: “Do you work here?”

“Yes, I do,” I said, as it was a good time to lie. “I’ve already called security and they’ll be here any minute.”

Fortunately, they took off. When I complained later to a zoo docent, she thanked me profusely, but sadly added that one of the zoo’s animals had lost its eye due to similar behavior.

And that’s how it is for the thousands of animals locked up in zoos for our pleasure day after day after day. Taunts. Hoots. Yells. Pokes. Parents, being their child’s first teachers, are often the culprits.

Every once in awhile, an animal finds a way to get back at taunting visitors.

One event involved a man with a pack of friends cackling at a giant Silver back in the Los Angeles Zoo. The man was relentless with yells and hoots; the agitated gorilla turned his back to the crowd. That only made the man behave worse. He began to pound his chest loudly and make Tarzan calls. Seeking revenge, a silvery arm picked up some leftover business, aimed, fired and hit the man in the face.

But most often, animals can’t defend themselves. Whatever happened at the San Francisco Zoo – and I’m not sure when we will know or will ever know – perhaps will bring this issue to a head. Many visitors who witness these despicable behaviors don’t know what to do. Do we intervene? Run to security officials, who seem too far to reach? How much taunting is too much? What happens if a visitor is about to injure an animal?

All those things were running through my mind while we watched the woman tease the tiger. How much easier this could be if we knew who to call.

Ironically, right after Christmas last year, my family and I decided to visit the San Francisco Zoo for our first time. We had never gone and a woman highly recommended it for its sheer beauty and location. A few days before we went, a zookeeper was publicly feeding Tatiana, when she grabbed the zookeeper’s arm and mangled it.

Perched above Tatiana’s grotto, we watched her and her partner entertain us with their loving affection, rolling around together and covering each other with adoring licks. I wondered then how long it would take for this feline to become a target to intense teasing since she has garnered such media attention.

If taunting did happen with Tatiana -- and even if it didn't -- we owe it to ourselves and to the animals we’ve come to adore at many a zoo, to become part of the cure to this ongoing trouble. And to teach our own children how to behave at the zoo.

Then and only then, will both humans and the animals be truly safe.


Want to save a life? Possibly 23-month old Jillian's, who suffers from leukemia and could need a bone marrow transplant?

Here's how you can start. Show up this Saturday at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium anywhere from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and have the inside of your cheek swabbed to determine if you are a match for any child or adult who needs a bone marrow transplant.

Ever since Jillian, a local San Pedro tot who seems to have no concept that she's ill with her Tigger-like bounciness, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, Jillian's parents, Michelle and Matt, and their friends have undertaken the biggest drive of their lives -- trying to obtain a match for Jillian, but not just for Jillian but hundreds of others.

This Saturday, residents from 18 to 60 can register to become part of the national bone marrow registry at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Museum. Police, firefighters and minorities can register free. Jillian's friends have done several fundraisers to offset the normal registration costs. The aquarium is located at 3720 Stephen M. White Drive.

Potential donors are encouraged to register for anyone --not just Jillian-- to save a life. Minorities are desperately needed as Caucasians make up the largest percentage of potential donors in the national registry.

Ironically, the Littons -- before they ever knew about Jillian's troubles -- had become registered bone marrow donors. Michelle said for years she had been haunted by the struggles of those children. Unfortunately -- while matches typically run a long genetic lines -- neither parent or Jillian's sister, Anna, 4, are a match.

Therefore, they are in search of a match for Jillian -- but are determined to help scores of others along the way. For more information about becoming a bone marrow donor, visit the following sites: and

Please visit entire Jillian story in an earlier post.