RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shirt Theatre's production of "Bully?" has a message for everyone, especially victims of bullies. Above, some of the cast at Farrington High School auditorium. CLICK FOR LARGE
Blow the whistle on bullies
Gritty themes reflect the young actors' day-to-day life
WHEN people think about a bully, they think about the big guy terrorizing the little kids on the playground. But Tatiana Ramirez, a senior at Farrington High School, points out that in actuality, bullies come in all shapes and sizes.
Ramirez performs in T-Shirt Theatre's new production, "Bully?" -- a play that honors the whistle-blowers who find help and stop potential violence.
» On stage: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Farrington High School Auditorium
» Admission: Free, but donations are welcome
» Call: 220-5003 or visit www.rehearseforlife.com
The student-written production, which opens Friday, looks at the "bully, bullied and bystander." Bringing it to the stage brought new awareness of the problem to cast members, and they are hoping that audiences receive similar messages.
Cress Ferriera, an eighth-grader at Kalakaua Middle School, describes himself as shy and reserved. "There is a lot of bullying that goes on in the classroom. I would have been scared to tell before," he said. "Now I know that you shouldn't keep it to yourself, so others don't get hurt or something."
Ramirez added, "People get hurt and beat up for no reason." Ferriera hopes his role in the play will help others surpass the fear of reporting a bully.
Bullies tease others to gain attention, he said. "They don't have any real friends. They bully others to build their self-esteem."
In extreme cases, victims might drop out of school, forfeiting their education in order to evade danger, director George Kon said.
Kon doesn't believe that the one-hour production will transform bullies, but he hopes it will empower victims and demonstrate that there is no such thing as an "innocent" bystander.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mark Cabico, left, Cleo Mariano, Lopaka Matthews, and Aldrich Ang rehearse a scene from the T-Shirt Theatre's production of "Bully?" at Farrington High School auditorium. CLICK FOR LARGE
The young cast members of T-Shirt Theatre don't just rehearse their lines, they are "rehearsing for life," said director George Kon.
Not for them is the frivolity of "High School Musical." These kids from Dole and Kalakaua middle schools and Farrington High School are concerned with theater that tackles such themes as AIDS awareness, alcohol abuse, gang violence, racial justice, money management, suicide prevention and voter empowerment.
Under the direction of the Alliance for Drama Education, students in T-Shirt Theatre have written scripts and performed 56 original shows over the past couple decades. The current group has taken on the causes and consequences of bullying.
"We thought 'Bully?' would be really dark piece, but there is a lot of humor," said Kon. "It has been a productive journey."
Performance goals include transforming the controlling behavior of the bully into leadership activities, developing the nonaggressive behaviors of the bullied into strengths and transforming the bystander into a witness, "willing to stand up, speak out and act against injustice."
The question mark in the title is no mistake, but emphasizes the premise that everyone has the capability of playing the role of bully, victim or bystander. Each of us has been a bully -- perhaps as a tantrum-throwing 2-year-old or a controlling grandmother, explained Kon. "Using our own self-interests and manipulation, we victimized someone else."
One scene in "Bully?" depicts the relationship between a teen and her abusive boyfriend; others deal with family issues or bullies on campus.
Once the roles are scripted, they can be rewritten, creating healthier outcomes. For example, the actors and the audience will see how situations could shift, when a "not-so-innocent bystander" reports the bullying and the violence is halted. "If we are witnessing bullying and not doing anything, then we are the bully's buddy," said Kon.
Producer Walt Dulaney reviewed some statistics that came to light with news of last week's shootings at Virginia Tech -- that harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school shootings. "I have scant hope that our 55-minute school show will transform bullies or heal the bullied victims, but I hope that we'll be able to remove a bit of the stigma that lands on the whistle-blower bystanders."
"We are working with inner-city schools, high poverty areas with lots of recent immigrants," added Kon. "Many of these kids deal with bullying on a daily basis."
Many of the middle-school T-Shirt Theatre troupe members feel safer when they move up to Farrington. "It is fun and a good experience to work with high school actors," said Kalakaua eighth-grader Cress Ferriera.
"It's like having older brothers and sisters. When they move up, they see familiar faces on campus," added Kon.
They also learn to dream big. "We ask them regularly what they want to do with their lives. Saying aspirations out loud has power," said Kon.
Communication skills are an added bonus. Farrington senior Tatiana Ramirez has been working with the company for four years. "I learned to be a better speaker, to speak louder and clearly. Now, I'm planning to go away to college and have interviews, so it has helped."
Kon notes that many of the young performers also work on the scripts. "They are learning to tell stories and express themselves. They are presenting a better face to the world."