HomeArticles"The Burn" addresses cyberbullying onstage at Phoenix Theatre

“The Burn” addresses cyberbullying onstage at Phoenix Theatre

Mia Johnson (Tara), Megan Holcomb (Andi), Mary Townsend (Shauna) and Bethany Baca (Mercedes) take on bullying in the Arizona premiere of “The Burn” Oct. 25-Nov. 10 at Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Reg Madison Photography, courtesy of BLK BOX PHX

Bullying has been around forever, but with the advent of social media, posting mean-spirited messages about someone has become all too easy.

BLK BOX PHX, a nonprofit Valley theater, is opening its season addressing the subject with the Arizona premiere of “The Burn” at The Phoenix Theatre on Oct. 25. The show is recommended for ages 16 and up because of content and strong language.

In “The Burn,” when high school students take part in a production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” acts of bullying escalate until they turn into an online witch hunt. The subject of cyberbullying caught the attention of playwright Philip Dawkins, who wrote “The Burn” based in part on the experiences of a student who was expelled. He was asked to write the play by Hallie Gordon, artistic director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, and it was first presented at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Directing “The Burn” in Phoenix is Elaine “E.E.” Moe, who calls bullying a social disease. ” ‘The Burn’ ” is so powerfully brilliant and culturally significant that its raw truth rips the rug from hidden nightmares of social media,” says Moe, adding the overall message is not bleak. “One finishes the journey with an element of hope and asks how can we do better in a climate that constantly displays acts of demoralizing slurs with a total lack of civility.”

Moe received the 2018 Bridge Initiative’s Leader of the Year Award for her legacy in the arts as a producer, director, actor, playwright, educator and advocate, followed in 2019 by the National Society of Arts and Letters Arts Educator Award. She has worked in Los Angeles and New York, in regional theaters, and as a guest artist for touring productions. An original founder of Arizona Theatre Company, she also founded the Megaw Theatre and Actors Studio in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Making her BLK BOX PHX debut as outsider Mercedes is Bethany Baca, a Westmont College graduate whose credits include Philemon in “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” for the Southwest Shakespeare Company and Carla in “In the Heights” at Desert Foothills Theater. Also making her BLK BOX PHX debut is Megan Holcomb as Andi, the athlete of the group. Mia Johnson plays Tara, who makes sure Mercedes knows she’s an outsider. ASU grad Mary Townsend plays Shauna, and J.C. Lawler plays Erik, the class’s teacher.

Why go see “The Burn”? It can’t help but start conversations.

“We are living in a polarized time where there’s no room for a gray area,” Dawkins said in a statement. “Everything is yes or no or black or white, and that is destructive. It doesn’t leave room for conversation.” He adds that “social media is a tool, and any tool can be used appropriately or inappropriately, creatively or thoughtlessly.”

BLK BOX PHX is offering a special promo online or by calling the box office at 602-254-2151. Use BURNBOGO to buy one adult ticket and get one youth ticket (for ages 18 and younger) free.


More plays that prompt conversations with kids

They Chose Me (Oct. 11-27). Valley Youth Theatre’s musical production spotlights the subject of adoption, as seen through the eyes of kids ages 7-18. It tells the funny, yet poignant story of an adoptee and many of the issues she faces, including foster homes, parental loss, gay adoption and multi-cultural families.

The Crucible (Oct. 11-27). This drama about the Puritan purge of witchcraft in old Salem was written by Arthur Miller in 1953 as an allegory for McCarthyism, when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated U.S. citizens for alleged subversive activities. TheaterWorks promises a “new seating experience” during its production.

Bare (Oct. 18-Nov. 3). In Spotlight Youth Theatre’s rock musical, high school seniors at a Catholic boarding school explore issues of sexuality and personal identity. As they struggle to come to terms with who they are, and who the world thinks they should be, they seek answers from their church, their friends and ultimately from within.

Silent Sky (Nov. 14-Dec. 1). Based on the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, a headstrong pioneer struggles for recognition in the man’s world of turn-of-the-century astronomy. Arizona Theatre Company stages this blend of science, history, family ties, fragile love, and a society determined to keep a woman in her place at Herberger Theater Center.

Suzette Who Set to Sea (April 8-May 17, 2020). In a small seaside village where men build boats and women do not, young Suzette knows she is different and longs for the sea. Childsplay’s production of this adventurous, imaginative tale explores courage, community, and the possibility that sometimes it only takes the actions of a single person to change everything.

Mean Girls (April 21-26, 2020). Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the vicious ways of her strange new home: suburban Illinois. Soon, this naïve newbie falls prey to a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George at ASU Gammage.

Come from Away (May 26-31, 2020). This musical, on tour at ASU Gammage, is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in a small Canadian town. It has been called a reminder of the capacity for human kindness in the darkest of times.



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