EAST COUNTY — Stephen King has found his way to the East County.
No, it’s not the famous author, whose novels have captivated readers for decades.
But King, who hails from Tusla, Okla., is partly responsible for helping to install a large red tent at the southeast corner of State Road 70 and Lockwood Ridge earlier this month, when he and the rest of an eight-member team with Whatisthe99? brought their traveling reality theater to Bradenton.
More than 240 local volunteers, including 80 local actors, help with the show each night. Performances started Feb. 15 and run from 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 10. Guests must be at least 11 years old to participate. Cost to watch the show is $3.
“Ninety-nine kids (ages 12 to 24) die in America every day by (making poor) avoidable choices,” King said, as he readied the tent on opening day. “Thirty-one will die in a car crash today; 16 in an overdose or drug-related incident; 40 in a homicide or gang (incident); and 12 from suicide. That’s why it gets the 99. We believe we can change those numbers by doing this production.”
Whatisthe99? organizers partner with local civic and other groups to put on the production, which features 13 rooms, each depicting the consequences of making poor decisions, such as sending text messages while driving, abusing prescription and other drugs and suicide, among others.
Guests walk from room to room to see each drama unfold. The walking tour takes about 45 minutes in total, and guests can ask to leave the room at any time if they become uncomfortable.
“Reality can be scary, but it’s not designed to be scary,” King said. “Everything you see is depicted as real.”
Organization founder and director Terry Henshaw agreed the show is meant to impact youth and help them become more aware of each choice they make.
The venue also gives them an outlet to speak about any trials with which they are dealing. Adult volunteers will be available at the end of the performance to speak with youth about what is going on in their lives, if they so desire.
“Most teenagers have no one they can talk with,” Henshaw said. “They don’t feel like they can talk with anyone without it being posted on Facebook. Some have parents on drugs or don’t have food to eat. Kids are going to school with these burdens. They aren’t able to be kids.”
Henshaw said the Whatsthe99? is a faith-based initiative, with a short presentation at the end of the show.
For more information, visit whatisthe99.com/page3/index.php.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
When: 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 10
Where: 4536 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton
What: A walk-through reality theater depicts a scene of an accident and other potentiall graphic incidents. Participants must be at least 11 years old to enter.
What is the 99?
31 — Youths die in car crashes daily
16 — Youths die in an overdose or drug-related incident daily
40 — Youths die in a homicide or gang-related incident daily
12 — Youths commit suicide daily
99 — Total number of daily preventable teenage deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention