Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A New Play Tackles Youth Issues Head-On
Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane – a story of courage and unspoken truth
By Jay Junior Williams

Facing up to the issues of youth bullying and the resultant effects within communities,
especially those in the West Auckland area is a task that Jay Junior Williams, the
creator of ‘Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane’ has taken by the horns.
With a cast of talented young West Aucklanders, Williams fuses Maori and Pacific
motifs with gritty hard-hitting realities of youth living real daily lives – somewhere
between lost and found. It is an ugly duckling story described as a poetic and operatic
drama of transcendence.

“The transcendence we’re talking about is that of self-worth and the freedom to be
yourself,” explains Williams.

The play touching on issues of bullying, depression and suicide have all been issues
big in the news of the day re: Roast Busters and others. But, Williams says, these are
not new issues and he’s been working with them since 2007 when he began Phoenix
NZYP (New Zealand Young Performers).

“Contrast to the Roast Busters, we’ve got a group of young men doing incredibly
positive things. But, what these guys have done is highlight the issues we’ve been
working with all along. Bullying today has changed and it’s time communities and
especially schools started recognising that.”

Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane examines some of these issues, which
Williams is passionate about. He goes on,

“You know it’s about responsibility; of the bystander, the community, the schools all
to feel a certain level of responsibility towards each other. If we had more of this, then
intervention and reaction would be so much more meaningful. What we’re about
[Phoenix] is being proactive and tackling the problems in a real multi-dimensional
way, which is what our communities and schools should also be doing.”
As a secondary school teacher, Williams explains that all too many times bullying
would go unnoticed until it was too late – especially cyber bullying which is almost
invisible except to those involved.

“This is the worst thing about it. We haven’t yet learnt to identify it as something as
real as getting punched in the face. But, it can be much worse than just a physical act.
This is part of the reason I wanted to do the play, to bring awareness to the power of
words and the humiliation this can wield over others, especially in an online context.”
Williams says that the recent spate of news items about these issues serve to highlight
the gap in societies responsibilities to teach emotional literacy and care particularly
through our schooling system.

“Phoenix as an organisation is robust and has provided opportunities for hundreds of
young people to transition and transform through accessible forums and empathetic
encounters. These are not always accessible in the schooling system and so we find
that we are catching those who leak through the cracks.”

Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane examines the issues in a non-traditional
narrative. It points to a betrayal of the system, as in the Garden of Gethsemane,
whereby the elephant standing in this garden is covered in a shroud of secrecy and

“We’re using a non-traditional narrative because what people don’t understand is that
these issues have evolved and yet we are still using old mechanisms. We’re trying to
make it accessible and also to be able to bring out the discussion that needs to be had
around these issues. It’s not about laying blame, as some have been doing, it’s about
finding solutions and forums in which young people may be free to share.”

Although the Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane ends in a positive, as with the
story of the ugly duckling, this doesn’t always happen in real life. Williams points to
the fact that for a real change to happen over the long-term to stop bullying, violence
and suicide the community has to stand-up attack it in a multi-dimensional way and
get support from government dollar for dollar. Williams concludes,
“I don’t have all the answers but I do know that at least my organisation has been and
will continue to be part of the answer. I’d like to see community, schools and
individuals really find solutions that connect and share through a focus on wellbeing.
We’re helping out with providing art as a mechanism for change and we hope that
others may see some worth in this.”

* Jay Junior Williams is the founder of Phoenix NZYP, a Senior Secondary Schools drama
teacher and social change agent.

* As a recipient of the Vodafone World of Difference Award 2013, Jay worked on a number
of projects through the year - Matariki (drawing awareness of it's significance for Maori),
Phase 1 young writers festival, Candid (showcase of emerging artists), Blood in Water theatre
piece, Women's Refuge Campaign in Palmerston North, The White Ribbon Campaign, Anti-
Bullying Campaign in schools, visit to NYC.
* Elephant in the Garden of Gethsemane also has limited public seating in a fundraiser
performance for Leadership NZ on Tuesday 26th November 8pm, preceded by an address by Mr Williams at 730pm. Contact Q-Theatre for enquiries.

For ticketing details at Corban Estate Arts Centre (Shed 1) on Friday 13th December
at 8pm (preceded by a directors talk at 730pm), you can find out more at
info@ceac.org.nz or ph: 838 4455, website: www.ceac.org.nz.

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