Teens explore bullying through theatre project
“I don’t bully anymore. I already know how it feels.”
More than a dozen Iqaluit teens entertained their community and peers recently with some interactive theatre that they hope will make a bully think twice about hurting someone – and show victims that they always have someone to help them.
Their play, which hit the stage on Sept. 19 at Inuksuk high school, explored why bullies beat up on others, and how violence, even in the form of name-calling, can become deadly.
After taking a week of workshops with a local theatre group, the teens put together a loosely-knit play with a twist. Instead of acting out an entire play where all their lines are rehearsed, they stopped in the middle of scenes and invited the audience to take their place.
Courtney Dunphy, 14, says by switching places with audience members, it allows others to get into the skin of a bully or victim, and realize how much damage is being done.
“A lot of suicides revolve around bullying,” Dunphy said during a rehearsal break. “It puts down the [victims’] self-esteem.”
The pain inflicted by bullying was close to the surface, even during rehearsals. During a warm-up to their self-produced play, the teens gathered in the Legion’s Cadet Hall, and improvised scenes where bullies clashed with their victims.
At one point, the director, David Diamond, from Vancouver, suddenly told the two sides to stop. He quickly challenged each actor to finish a sentence beginning with the words “I want…”, off the top of their head.
One teen acting as a bully said, “I want to stay leader of this group.”
Another said, “I want people to like me.”
Across from them, a soft-spoken 15-year-old girl in a pink sweater said: “I want to die.”
Sylvia Cloutier, who organized the week’s worth of workshops and finale performance through the Qaggiq Theatre Company’s Theatre For Living workshops, said the event gave youth a much-needed forum to express themselves in ways they’re not allowed to elsewhere.
Cloutier pointed out how some of the teens only met this week, but were able to act out spontaneous, emotional scenes that touched on the pain of depression.
“Sometimes, they feel they don’t have a place to be doing that,” she said. “Sometimes, they can’t talk to their parents, or their friends.
“Having opportunities like this, there’s freedom and support to talk like that, instead of bottling it up inside. That’s what a stage is about. That’s where it’s appropriate to get feelings outside, whether they’re negative, positive or depressive.”
Some of the teen actors found that the workshops made them feel less isolated in dealing with their problems, such as fending off peers who are jealous of their girlfriend or boyfriend, or dealing with alcohol abuse in the home.
Yannic Noah, 14, said he came mainly for the acting “because it feels good.”
But he said various parts of the workshop showed him that others have bullied, and been bullied, like him.
Noah said he fell into the trap of bullying when he moved to Iqaluit from Baker Lake two years ago, because he started hanging out with a cousin, who ended up being a bully. He ignored his cousin, but at the same time, ended up being intimidated by “a tall guy” who made fun of Noah’s sense of humour one day, and never stopped.
“It’s a big problem,” Noah said. “It makes the bullied kid be kind of depressed. I don’t bully anymore. I already know how it feels.”
The week-long production was sponsored by a long list of Iqaluit businesses and organizations.