On a recent Saturday morning, there were lines of teenagers outside the Foot Action and Foot Locker stores in Largo. The object: to be among the first to own the newly released Air Jordan X Retro sneakers. Not far from the long lines was another, shorter, line of people eager to see the debut of "So How Ya Livin' Now?" The episodic play, which seeks to unite and inspire the community, is running most Saturdays through July at the Magic Johnson Theatres.
Although the play was seemingly eclipsed by the latest Jordans on opening day, its producers hope to attract the same teenagers who lined up for fancy footwear. Executive producer Kevin Williams calls the production "edu-tainment" -- "a cross between 'The Wire' and 'Soul Food' " -- and that says it can help young people deal with tough issues. Moreover, the play is not the only help being offered: In collaboration with its sponsors, Williams is providing job training and referrals for local teenagers.
"We are trying to find things that are relevant for people that can bring youth and parents together, and empowering them to work, learn and live together," said Williams, the founder of Champions LLC, the Upper Marlboro-based mentoring organization that created the play.
"We wanted to do community outreach. That is what this is about. It's about family," he said. "I'm just tired of hearing all the nonsense, so I'm reaching out to men and women to try to bring people together." Indeed, the production constantly reiterates its central theme: the importance of community togetherness.
The "nonsense" Williams refers to is the play's subject matter -- topics such as drug-dealing, imprisonment, broken homes, political scandals and crime. Like a soap opera, the play, which has a cast of more than 50 volunteer actors, follows the same group of characters from week to week. It sometimes resembles a variety show, incorporating appearances by local singers, rappers, comedians, dancers and preachers into the script.
After each episode, audience members help decide what will happen next. In the play's debut, Hip Pop -- played by Williams -- was torn between two women: Sharonda, the wife who had recently left him, and Allura, a new love interest. Most viewers thought he should go back to his wife, so that's what happened the following week.
Such plot twists keep many audience members coming back.
District resident Sheri Mitchell, 37, saw a recent performance. "The performances were good. I thought it was a good play, and it was a good awareness for young people," she said. Mitchell plans to come back and bring her son.
"The play is so real-life," said her mother, Joyce Mitchell, 57, of Landover. "I used to work as a teacher in an inner-city school, and young kids are real hostile. These kids can tell you this play without even seeing it, because they live it every day." "So How Ya Livin' Now?" will be performed at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 11 and 25 and July 9, 16, 23 and 30 at the Magic Johnson Theatres in the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, 800 Shoppers Way, Largo. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door; ages 11-17, $5 in advance and $7 at the door ; children 10 and younger, free. 202-486-8515.