PATERSON, NJ- Two friends are hanging out at Austin’s house, super excited to get ready to play. They jump around, they stretch, they even put on headbands and do their “super special friendship hand shake”. They check in with their snacks, a Mountain Dew and some candy then count down, “1..2..3”, and both in unison sit down, grab an Xbox remote control and start playing a basketball game in front of a tv.
This is the story of Austin, brought to life by New Brunswick’s George Street Playhhouse and ShapingNJ, in the stage play Austin the Unstoppable about an 11-year old who must face the long term consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle in the age of his his mother’s diagnosis with Type II Diabetes. After learning his family has a history of the disease he struggles with the thought of enjoying Halloween with this best friend, who is as sedentary as Austin and barely knows the proper sports terms of scoring in basketball!
The play, which premiered in 2012 and has already toured to over 160 schools, reaching nearly 40,000 students throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, made its third visit to Paterson on Wednesday, February 28 and was performed in front of students at Frank R. Lautenberg School Number 6.
Following the play the students participate in an interactive question and answer session with the performers and get answers to their own questions which range from the actor’s career choices to their own healthy eating habits. Students are given additional tips about making good food choices such as seeking out fresh foods and keeping active by limiting screen time to an hour a day.
For students Molique Wright, Soraldy Ramirez and Sasheana Lewis the messages conveyed through the play were clear, as they told TAPinto Paterson, “be healthier, during less soda,” “don’t eat so much candy,” “get more exercise,” and, “making healthier choices (like those expressed in the play) give us a better chance of not dying.”
“Every child should see this play,” Jaymie Green Stein, the social emotional learning coordinator for School #6 said. Stein, who organized the production’s visit, spend her days teaching students mindfulness tools to help children become more aware of the impact of their emotions. “The kids simply don’t know how to eat healthy and make healthy choices,” she said.
The acting, catchy tunes, and strong message clearly impacted the students, who, as they headed back to their classrooms could still be overheard having conversations with one another, as with their teacher, about becoming “unstoppable” when it comes to making healthier eating decisions.