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Photo courtesy of Taino Theatre

Taino Theatre and Garden School have reunited for a third run of an original mixed media showcase, “Bully the Bully: Artists Against Hate,” featuring poets, scenes and dance, taking place on Friday, Jan. 17.

Taino Theatre’s Artistic Director Israel Martinez, a longtime Queens resident and community leader who grew up in the South Bronx, created Taino Dance Theatre almost 20 years ago in order to “tell the stories of urban New Yorkers to a wide audience in an effort to create unity and resist social injustices.”

“Bully the Bully,” though, is a special project Martinez has been working on for the past few years. Martinez said it was when President Donald Trump got elected that he was inspired to create a show that explores the “importance of human connection and kindness in a charged political climate where different is often seen as vulgar or unusual.”

“I was never into politics before … who was? We were kind of all asleep, so you can thank him for that,” Martinez said. “I love progress and I love that New York is a safer and better place than when I grew up, but you don’t want to lose the soul. And you don’t want to be a stranger in your own town.”

Now, Martinez makes a point to implement politics in his work so that his people, Latin people, know that they should be part of it, too.

He then wrote “Bully the Bully” by incorporating Taino Theatre’s mentoring program, SELTA (Social Emotional Learning Through the Arts), which includes a Garden School student-written prelude. They have a contest where the students get to write their own stories, which is usually about macro or micro bullying, but Martinez decided to open it up to other social issues.

“This year is a lot more than just bullying because, you don’t know, you might be a Mexican child and want to talk about immigration,” he said. “And that’s the thing about our program, these kids come out with things you didn’t think they were thinking about.”

Mary Maisano, director of finance at Garden School located in Jackson Heights, said that after hearing Martinez’s unique vision, they knew they wanted to work with him.

“As a school administrator at a time when students are facing a variety of social issues, we are constantly searching for a vehicle to help them connect to their own thoughts and feelings,” Maisano said.

The students were encouraged to audition and either write or act for the show. Martinez believes that by helping students balance “academia, sports and arts” they’ll reach their full potential and become well-rounded adults.

Francois Gomis, who was born and raised in Queens with a father from Senegal, is one of those students. This is the 13-year-old’s second time participating in the show, and is not only playing one of the kids getting bullied, but also delivers a powerful monologue in the beginning.

“‘Bully the Bully’ was enjoyable because I met a lot of amazing actors,” Gomis said. “I learned a lot from actors who have been doing it longer than me and even some of my classmates. It was a good environment.”

Gomis, who is part of Garden School’s soccer team, said the show has helped him consider how “we treat each other.”

Maisano believes Gomis “has blossomed” thanks to SELTA and “Bully the Bully,” in ways he probably wouldn’t have without the program.

“Garden School is generally a big sports school, and if you don’t bounce a ball, sometimes it can be difficult to be part of a group,” Maisano said. “What this has done for us is give students a different type of learning experience.”

Martinez said he is now working with Veritas Academy in Flushing, and hopes to bring the program to many more schools throughout New York.

“I want to make this a statewide movement,” he said.

“Bully the Bully: Artists Against Hate” with Taino Theatre and Garden School opens on Friday, Jan. 17 at Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance on 548 Main St.. Tickets are $20 and selling fast. For more information, visit www.martinezdancestudio.wixsite.com/tainotheatre.

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