The statistics are staggering: 77 percent of schoolchildren are victims of bullying, according to the Bullying Statistics website.
“Bullying is on the rise,” Jerry Rapier said. “As a new parent, I see things differently than I ever have. My concerns are now far less abstract. We need to take a breath, step back and really see what is happening around us. ‘Different = Amazing’ gives us a chance to do just that.”
Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theatre Company, is director of “Different = Amazing,” a touring theater production designed to prevent bullying and aggressive behavior. The production is the brainchild of Rapier's husband, Kirt Bateman, executive director of the Davis Arts Council.
“He was moved by the alarming rate of teenage suicide linked to bullying in schools and wanted to do something about it,” Rapier said. “We started talking, and before long we found that a lot of people in the arts community felt the same way, which led to the creation of an event that involved more than 100 performing artists and more than 50 community organizations.”
Rapier said many responsed to the first production, staged in 2010, saying it should tour and be presented in schools. "But that was impossible due to the size of the cast alone, so we didn't really think there was much we could do at that point,” he said.
Included in the original staging was a short play called “Get Up Again,” written by Matthew Ivan Bennett, Plan-B’s resident playwright, which “recounts, to very comic effect, one particular instance of him being bullied in elementary school,” Rapier said.
To augment to "Get Up Again," Plan-B enlisted two area school officials, Jim Martin, principal of Mountain View Elementary School, and Denice Maedgen, a Davis Arts Council board member and third grade teacher in Davis School District. They gathered stories of bullying that schoolchildren had experienced in Salt Lake and Davis Counties.
“What we received really helped Matt (Bennett) write ‘Different = Amazing,' which is now comprised of five short plays drawn from the real-life bullying experiences of local elementary school students,” Rapier said.
“The production is very simple: It’s just two actors, Tyson Baker and Latoya Rhodes, a roll of yellow tape and a black bench,” he said. “The focus is on the stories. The hope is that we can help students and educators alike feel better prepared to identify bullying and intervene.”
In an email, playwright Bennett summarized the five short plays included in the 45-minute “Different = Amazing”:
"What You Show to People" is a dramedy set in a principal's office. A sensitive little boy and a mean girl wait to be punished as they have it out over the slander, violence and possible crush between them.
"It's Not Safe to Feel” is about a fifth-grade girl who chooses to feel nothing when she's repeatedly roughed up by another girl.
"Get Up Again" is a grown-up's comic reminiscence of being badly beat up for wearing a carnation-pink sweatshirt to school.
"There Was This Girl" is a confessional monologue from a third-grader who stood idly by when her overweight friend was called "pig" and assaulted by boys.
"That's Not My Name" is a story of friendship between an outsider "nerd" and an African immigrant. When the first student is chased by bullies and splattered with paint-filled balloons, the other child almost joins in but ultimately walks away and finds a new friend.
“Different = Amazing” will be presented to an estimated 12,000 students and 30 elementary schools in the Salt Lake School District, Feb. 24-28, and the Davis School District, March 3-14. Plan-B is also staging three productions that are open to the public. Tickets are free and need to be reserved in advance.
If you go
What: Plan-B Theatre Company’s “Different = Amazing”
Where: Jeanne Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Theatre, Feb. 22 at noon; Good Company Theatre in Ogden, March 1 at noon and March 3 at 7 p.m.
Plan-B's 'Different = Amazing'
"Different = Amazing" by Matthew Ivan Bennett features Tyson Baker and Latoya Rhodes, and is directed by Plan-B Theatre Company's Jerry Rapier.