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Theatrical play pulls obesity battle onto stage

(Published Tuesday, July 5th, 2011 01:56PM)

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FRESNO -- Since he co-founded El Teatro Campesino with Luis Valdéz in 1965, Agustín Lira has produced theatrical works that spotlight critical social issues, including farmworker and immigration issues.

Today, Lira -- who also formed Teatro de la Tierra, and co-founded Teatro Inmigrante with Patricia Wells Solórazano -- is honing in on another topic impacting the Latino community.

In collaboration with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP,) Lira will direct the Teatro Obesity project, which will take the San Joaquín Valley's interconnected problems of poverty, hunger and obesity to center stage.

He is confident the production will help educate people about the factors that have caused the region's obesity epidemic, and inspire them to take action. In the Valley, 71 percent of Latino adults are overweight or obese, according to the California Health Interview Survey.

Teatro "has worked in the past to get the message out about different issues," Lira said. The production, he said, has the ability to "educate people about what things are happening, and what they can do about it."

Though the project is still in its preliminary stages, Lira has already crafted a song about the health dangers of drinking soda and sugar-sweetened beverages. The song, he said, allows him to express his anger toward the Coca Cola company, and encourage people to change their consumption habits.

A UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study found that regardless of income or ethnicity, adults who drink one or more sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages each day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.

"I write songs for people who make me angry and I can't do anything about it," he said. "I write songs and I get even that way. I put theater together to educate our community, and to show people different things they can do."

As with his other productions that focus on heavy issues, Lira said he will incorporate satire and humor into the Teatro Obesity project.

"Satire has a healing effect to it," he said. "If you are laughing, it is because you are learning."

Lira is currently recruiting volunteer actors and actresses. The opportunity is open to experienced performers, and those who have never acted before, but want to.

Performers will attend rehearsals for about two months, and will perform in five or six shows in the fall. The shows will likely be held in the rural communities CCROPP works in, as well as in Fresno.

Within the next two weeks, Lira will hold a preliminary meeting for people interested in participating in the project.

Contact Teatro de la Tierra at (559) 485-8558 for more information.

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