Families sat on picnic blankets and chattered excitedly as they waited for the start of the play "Fish Eyes," performed by the Acting Up Youth Performing Arts Troupe at Hutchins Street Square on Saturday night.
Then, a hush fell over the crowd as Paul Aguinaga walked onto the stage and began strumming his guitar.
Much like a Shakespearean introduction, Aguinaga sang an introduction and gave a brief background of the play before strumming offstage to a quick round of applause.
Three more teenagers — Daniel Larson, Logan Domingo and Justin Anderson — strolled onto stage with old fishing nets, talking to one another as if the audience was completely invisible.
The teenagers were three members of the 10-person cast of "Fish Eyes," a play that puts a modern twist on the story of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and is depicted through the eyes of various disciples.
The disciples, all played by actors no more than 17 years old, had audience members sharing laughs and tears as cast members brought an age-old tale into a modern setting.
The play, helmed by director Frances Siria, was meant to be something everyone can relate to, no matter their religious affiliation.
"These kids can really deliver," she said. "This is a place where kids not only get to act, they learn to articulate and become self confident in themselves and in their work."
"Fish Eyes," originally a two-man show that debuted in the 1990s, was reconstructed by Siria to accommodate each teenager who tried out for a part in the play.
Siria cast each actor based on their strengths, which she had seen during auditions or during improvisation games she often uses to get actors into character.
As it turned out, getting into character was not difficult for a majority of the actors.
Aguinaga admitted he is constantly humming a tune or playing notes on his guitar, making his character, Philip, an easy person to play.
Megan Hardin and her brother, Nick, were both cast in the play as the "Other Mary" and "Thomas," respectively.
Megan Hardin said she and her brother would incorporate actual scenes from the play into everyday conversations to make "things seem more real."
Andrae Sanchez, who was cast as James in the play, said even though he is a confident 15-year-old, acting shy and apathetic to portray James was not hard.
"I used to be shy, and I hated making eye contact with people," he said. "But now I am out there on stage, and I am comfortable with who I am and what I do."
For Siria, being comfortable and confident on and off stage was the goal of her ability to work with the teenagers.
"Something like this allows them to feel like they can take on the world," she said. "Not everyone can throw a football or get into Harvard. The theater allows these kids to not be afraid to be themselves."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.