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Teaming up against gangs

Two years ago, Oneko McTaggart turned his back on a lifestyle thatcould have led to membership in one of Toronto’s street gangs.

Two years ago, Oneko McTaggart turned his back on a lifestyle that could have led to membership in one of Toronto’s street gangs.

But for a few days this summer, the 18-year-old is resurrecting some of his old behaviours on stage and inhabiting a character who graphically illustrates the perils he managed to avoid.

McTaggart is lending his experience and talents to a theatrical initiative designed to spread a gang-prevention message throughout the city.

He and other youth from Toronto’s high-risk neighbourhoods teamed up with the staff of Mixed Company Theatre to write and perform “Diss,” a play that dramatizes the worst-case scenarios that can arise as a result of gang activity.

McTaggart had initially planned to take part in the project as a musician rather than an actor, but became absorbed in the production as he watched peers and professionals collaborate to create a play that provides a realistic depiction of life on the streets.

Gradually, he shifted from his rapper persona known as Aciezz into the role of Tyrone, a hot-tempered teen who vies for a dominant position in an evolving gang, sometimes using weapons to achieve his aims.

McTaggart was drawn to the role as a result of his personal experience, saying he felt an immediate sense of identity with the character.

“You could say I was a hothead before. I was a trouble-maker, and the things that (Tyrone) did, minus the gun part, it kind of reminded me of the old me,” McTaggart said in an interview.

Tyrone’s actions not only help drive the plot of the play — which was written in consultation with police, current gang members, at-risk youth and theatrical professionals — but will also likely serve as a key entry point for the audience.

The play will be performed at high schools across the city between Aug. 14 and 21.

 
 
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