Santa Clarita junior high school student Regina Bryant is a co-star in the all-youth cast of a powerful anti-bullying play that's been performed this spring at schools and for youth groups around Southern California, and will be staged one final time for the public at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts on Thursday night, May 10.
Bryant, 13, who attends La Mesa Junior High in Canyon Country, plays three different characters in "The Center of the Universe," which confronts the ever-growing issues of bullying, youth violence and prejudice in school through a live multimedia theatrical production and post-show discussion presented by the Phantom Projects Theatre Group.
The production's La Mirada performances — the first at 10 a.m. as a field trip performance for local schools, and another at 7 p.m. open to the public at 7 p.m.
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"It's mostly about everyday problems for teens, but the main message is to not think of yourself as the center of the universe," Bryant said. "Have compassion for other people's feelings. If something bad happens to someone else, you should treat it as if these tragedies happened to you. It just talks about racism, being prejudiced, tolerance, all kinds of everyday problems. My character is the slave at the beginning, and then I'm Sparky — she's a store clerk — and then I'm Mrs. Society, the wife of Mr. Society, of course."
Bryant is the youngest member of the cast; the eldest is 21. All from Los Angeles and Orange counties, her co-stars include Lexington Vanderberg (age 18, from Santa Ana, and a Cal State Long Beach student); Sienna Moffitt (17, Yorba Linda, Orange County High School of the Arts); Tyler Campbell (20, La Mirada, Cal State Fullerton); Alfredo Robles (18, Downey, Warren High School graduate); Phillip Jarrell (16, Cypress, Orange County High School of the Arts); and Alanna Hanly (17, Santa Ana, Orange County High School of the Arts).
"The cast is very welcoming, they're funny," Bryant said. "Yes, I am the youngest, but it makes me feel more welcome when they're nice to me. It's a really nice cast, and they all are really good actors and actresses. They really get into character, which makes me want to get into my character more. It's really fun."
Bryant (pictured below) was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and moved with her family to Santa Clarita in January. She's been acting more than half her life already.
"At about the age of six, I started acting and I've loved it ever since," she said. "When I was 12, I went to New York for a competition called IMTA, where I acted, sang, danced and modeled in front of agents and managers and casting directors. I decided to move to California, Santa Clarita, mostly because it's very peaceful. I got on L.A. Casting and saw 'The Center of the Universe' and really wanted to do it. So, I auditioned and got the part. I'm really excited."
Bruce Gevirtzman wrote the play and Steve Cisneros directs for Phantom Projects, which has been bringing educational productions to Southern California schools since 1997.
The tragic events at Columbine High School in 1999 brought "The Center of the Universe" to national acclaim when the production debuted in 2000, as an attempt to not only provide solutions but also to create an avenue of discussion for California teenagers through its post-show discussion.
The medium helps focus the anti-bullying message for teens as well as parents. "I think parents will be more appreciative of it because they see that young people are also understanding the problems and doing something about it," Bryant said. "You can always tell a kid what's wrong and what's right, but when they can visually see it, with characters, it can come more clearly to them. So, I think it's easier for it to be in a play, and very important."
Bryant said she hasn't been bullied physically at school, but she has had some problems with peer acceptance. "Of course, there are little groups, cliques, and I've sometimes not been accepted into them," she said. "People talk about me, but it's not an everyday thing. I've had people talk about me or exclude me from the group, but I don't take it to heart much."
Regina Bryant (left) is pictured with co-stars Alanna Hanly, Lexington Vanderberg and Sienna Moffatt.
Some of her friends have been victims of physically bullying at school, and she draws from their experiences to play her three characters.
"When I'm doing a character in the play, it makes me think about my friends and kind of makes me emotional," she said. "So I really get into the character and I can or the character more (accurately) because of real-life experiences. It makes me really sad, but it helps with acting."
On Sunday, Bryant started shooting her first film, a short titled "Palms" that's also being produced by the Phantom Projects Theatre Group.
"It's about a foster kid who's being shipped from home to home, and he's waiting to find a family that can really take him in, so he can find his heart," she said.
Each year, Phantom Projects mounts a season of plays at the La Mirada Theatre through a partnership with the city of La Mirada, in addition to touring productions to middle and high schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The fully staged productions in La Mirada include interpretations of classic works currently on school curricula as well as one original script, by Gevirtzman, that addresses issues of immediate concern to teenagers.
Following "The Center of the Universe" on May 10, Phantom Projects' 2011-12 season concludes with the sixth annual Young Artist Project on Aug. 4, offering an evening of one-act plays written, directed and starring some of Southern California’s brightest young talent. Earlier productions of this season were "The Crucible" in October and "MacHomer" in February.
Ticket prices for the 10 a.m. performance of "The Center of the Universe" on May 10 are $6, and for the 7 p.m. performance, $25 for adults, $12 for high school students and $6 for middle school students. Group discounts are available. Call 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or visit www.lamiradatheatre.com  or www.phantomprojects.com .
"I can't wait until we do the show," Bryant said. "Everyone's going to love it because we all portray our characters really well to get the message through."
Find the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, Calif., 90638.
Photos courtesy Phantom Projects Theatre Group.