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Acting against illiteracy: ‘Book Thief’ play raises funds for Gary Literacy Coalition

Actor Lucius Rouser IV (left) along with cast members Erynn Mackenzie (center) Rose Marie Simmons perform scene from stage play

Actor Lucius Rouser IV (left), along with cast members Erynn Mackenzie (center) and Rose Marie Simmons perform a scene from the stage play "The Book Thief" during The Gary Literacy Coalition's 2012 dinner-theater. | Jeff Addison~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 29, 2012 6:07AM



The Gary Literacy Coalition, in partnership with Methodist Hospitals, hosted its annual philanthropic thrust fundraiser Nov. 8 with the dinner-theater presentation of “The Book Thief.”

In its third year, the coalition collaborated with local playwright and author Ben Clement, who is also a member of the GLC board of directors, and producer, director Mark Spencer of MAS Media Seven, and the West Side Theatre Guild.

“The Book Thief” is an original piece about an illiterate student and basketball player who is partnered with a retired teacher, who has to tutor him so that his reading and academic skills improve. The unlikely pair, along with the student’s pregnant girlfriend, bump heads until an epiphany changes everything.

Era Twyman, executive director of the Gary Literacy Coalition, said the purpose of the dinner and play is continued support of literacy in Gary.

“If you are unable to read, you are unable to be successful in life,” Twyman said. “The plays always have a theme regarding literacy so that the community is educated on the importance of reading and to make the city of Gary a reading city.”

Clement welcomed the opportunity to partner with Spencer again for an original production, as well as give local citizens a chance to enjoy a live dinner theater without having to go to Chicago.

“You did not have to go to Chicago, pay for parking, fighting traffic or any other inconveniences. You can arrive minutes from your home, free parking and have a great time,” Clement said.

Attendees enjoyed a holiday themed dinner of salad, turkey and dressing, ham, yams, rolls and bite-sized desserts before the production began.

Carolyn Sims of Gary said this was her second year attending the Gary Literacy Coalition fundraiser. She attended last year’s production, “A Figment of Reality.”

“I really enjoyed this year’s production, ‘The Book Thief.’ It takes you back to a time when learning to read was a death sentence for blacks. I lived in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era. This is a production that should be shown in classrooms to the youth because they do not understand the sacrifices made for them,” she said.

GLC treasurer Denise Dillard said reading is a gift.

“We cannot afford to lose a generation of youth to illiteracy,” she said. Twyman added that 70 percent of Gary’s population is functionally illiterate.



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