ORINDA -- It was a Tuesday afternoon in April 2013 when Dimarea Young went out for a jog with his father and brother, as part of a Richmond city sponsored vocational training group. He was 19 years old, and according to those closest to him was trying to right a life that had taken a few wrong turns.

A white SUV circled the block, witnesses would later recall, before someone jumped out and ran toward Young, firing a handgun at point-blank range. Young was pronounced dead at the scene.

Richmond is a city with a history of street shootings and killings; its victims are often men like Young who grow up in cycles of loss and violence. And, like Young, their deaths often go unsolved.

A few years before his death, Young had helped start a group to bring about a different culture in Richmond, one based on hope and expression through art -- Richmond Artists with Talent (RAW Talent).

On Friday, over a year after his slaying, seven young poets, playwrights, actors and actresses from that group are taking the stage at Cal Shakes' Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda to perform a deeply personal play born from pain in each of their lives.

The roughly 45-minute long production, "The Adventure of Grief: A Short Play," is the culmination of a yearlong artistic workshop that was designed with the support of Cal Shakes to build on themes from a production put on last year. Poems in the play explore physical and emotional abuse at home and the loss of family and friends to death, prison and miscarriage.


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"I think it is a pretty intense assignment," said Rebecca Novick, director of artistic development at Cal Shakes. Through Cal Shakes' research and development wing, Triangle Lab, Novick said they've supported RAW Talent and partnered with them to diversify storytelling and audience at the community theater. "They're an extraordinary group of people, doing really extraordinary work," she said.

This is not the first play RAW Talent has put on, but it is special to coordinator and co-founder Molly Raynor -- not just because of the subject matter and dedication to Young, but because they're writing, rehearsing and performing it in Orinda in the space of a week.

"The kids have their poems written, they've narrowed down the primary pieces and we're weaving the writing together into a mixture of poetry, theater and movement," Raynor said. "We've never done anything like this; the outcome will be different from what we're used to."

It's a full week for the performers, who range in age from 13 to 25, with all-day rehearsals and coaching leading up to the show. Nyabingha "Nya" McDowell, a 17-year-old youth leader in the group, is performing a piece about confronting inner turmoil and self-doubt after a life of abuse.

"If I call myself a queen long enough, I can actually believe I am one," she said, repeating her favorite line from her poem during Tuesday's rehearsal. "This workshop is the reason I wanted to try and find myself."

McDowell, who starred in RAW Talent's last production, said her friends always call her Queen because "I act like a diva." But, she explained, while staring straight-ahead, chin raised and knit scarf tied atop her head like a crown, her insecurities make that label feel fake. She said she's trying to convince herself "That I am beautiful, that I am royalty."

McDowell's poem is part of the show's third act, which deals with issues of motherhood, daughterhood and womanhood in general. The play will open with a poem by Deandre Evans, an instructor at RAW Talent, that compares his grief to a house he can't leave. Followed by an act on manhood and fatherhood, then closing with a dance and song--maybe. There's still some kinks for Raynor and the play's director Arielle Julia Brown to smooth.

"One day I will write myself whole," the group sang during rehearsal on Tuesday. It's a simple song, but the message echoes RAW Talent's mission and the young poets' ongoing struggle to deal with the reason for this workshop--grief because of violence.

"One day I will write myself whole, and heal. And heal," they sang out before falling on the floor in a fit of laughter at each other's warbling voices and lighthearted, awkward dance moves.

Raynor, who was sitting across the room looked up from her phone at the circle of giggling kids, and smiled.

Jennifer Baires covers Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga. Contact her at 925-943-8378. Follower her at twitter.com/jenniferbaires.

if you go
What: 'The Adventure of Grief: A Short Play'
When: 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8
Where: Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda
The event is free, and open to the public. Audience members will receive a $10 discount for the following show that night, Cal Shake's current production, Pygmalion.