The Bully Plays

Makers of the film “Bully” have announced that it’ll open March 30 in select theaters, and make its way to Harkins Theatres Camelview 5 in Scottsdale on April 13. Bullying is also the subject of a new collection of short works for young actors called “The Bully Plays,” compiled and edited by Linda Habjan and published in 2011 by Dramatic Publishing.

“The Bully Plays” includes two dozen 10-minute plays addressing bullying “between and among young people, their parents and siblings” from various perspectives — the bullies, the bullied and the bystanders. Issues addressed include gender, sexuality, physical condition, social status and more — plus ways technology has changed the nature and scope of bullying.

“Bullying is aggressive behavior intended to harm or show power over another person that is repeared over time,” according to Susan Sugerman, M.D., M.P.H., an adolescent medicine physician who wrote the book’s forward. Sugerman is also president and co-founder of Girls to Women Health and Wellness in Dallas. “Bullies,” she adds, “have a strong need to show their dominance over others or to get their own way.”

“Victims of bullying tend to be children who are less popular or new to a situation,” according to Sugerman. Youth with academic, physical, or social ‘differences’ may be at particular risk of being bullied — as are those who don’t conform to gender norms. “Victims,” adds Sugerman, “tend not to get along well with others, have few friends, and have low self-esteem.”

But why choose plays as a way to tackle the topic? “One way to approach such a universal problem,” says Habjan, “is to get it out into the open and provide young people with strategies to deal with it in creative and empowering ways.” And Sugerman concurs that “When art can be used to improve, not just imitate, life, we are all better off.”

Two of the 24 pieces in “The Bully Plays” were written by playwrights-in residence at Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in “professional theatre for young audiences and families” currently celebrating its 35th season.

“Gasp, Farrah & Monster” was written by José Cruz González, whose “Tomás and the Library Lady” (based on Pat Mora’s book) opens April 7 at Tempe Center for the Arts. “The Bully Pulpit” was written by Dwayne Hartford, whose “The Color of Stars” opens a world premiere run at TCA April 22.

The diversity of plays included in this collection mirrors the breadth and depth of real life experiences facing today’s children and teens. There’s school violence, cyberbullying, suicide and more. Settings include ancient Greece, a teen girl’s bedroom, a school on lockdown, a circus, a courtroom and others. Each play lists characters, setting and time — making staging the works easy in theater, classroom or community settings. Cast size varies from two to 25+.

Titles include “Bystander Blues” (Trish Lindberg), “Flash Mob” (Elizabeth Wong), “The New Kid” (Richard Dresser) and “What Goes Around” (D.W. Gregory). Though written to be performed by and for young audiences, they’re also helpful for introducing student to reading works of theater and inspiring youth to try their own hand at playwriting. Most importantly, they serve as conversation starters.

Long before “bullying” landed front and center in the national dialogue, Mary Pipher, Ph.D. addressed tough issues facing adolescent girls in “Reviving Ophelia,” the first of eight books filled with insights gleaned from cultural anthropology and clinical psychology. Pipher describes “The Bully Plays” as “a tasty antidote to our toxic teen culture.”

“This collection of plays is funny, sad, powerful and important,” says Pipher. “Bullying is a catch-phrase for treating others as less than human. All of these plays help teenagers develop their moral imagination and see that there is no us/them. There is only  us.”

— Lynn

Note: For additional bullying prevention resources, visit Teaching Tolerance and the Anti-Defamation League. Click here for details about a March 30 screening of the film “Bully” at the Phoenix Film Festival.

Coming up: A teacher tale, Student art exhibits

Update: Click here to read “The Defenders” by Sharon L. Green. The article, which appears in the May/June 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine, addresses theater works that tackle bullying. 5/2/12

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