CORNELIUS — With texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media websites, bullying can easily go viral and get out of control. Davidson College theater students hoped to explore repercussions of hitting that send button during a performance for teens.
Community Based Theatre for Social Justice: Bullying Prevention Troupe and other theater students presented “IRL: In Real Life,” a play by R.N. Sandberg exploring the progression and consequences of cyberbullying.
The group performed the play March 3 followed by an interactive forum to Bailey Middle seventh-graders. That week, they were also slated to present to students at North Mecklenburg High, Hough High and Alexander Middle.
IRL actor Noah Driver decided to get involved because he’s seen the affects of cyberbullying as a YMCA camp counselor.
“This is one of the big issues that kids face at camp,” Driver said, adding that the play demonstrates how because of the ease anonymity of online, bullying can even take place within a friend group. “I came from a high school that had a pretty severe bullying incident and two suicides. … It’s not something I’ve experienced, but I think it’s something that colored the whole production.”
The play’s events surround four characters, portrayed by Davidson students Driver, Rachel Wiltshire, Brian Wiora and Elizabeth Hunter. Due to technology, characters are affected by bullying while alone or playing videos games and it is continued at school.
“Online completely changes bullying,” Hunter said. “Before, it was on the playground and in the hallway — that still happens — but there is a certain risk confronting face-to-face. Online, you can hide behind your screenname.”
Aiming to relate to their target audience, the play includes many of the usual characters, like jocks and the outcasts. But that’s where the stereotypes end.
“It’s not the jock being the bully versus the weakling who is unpopular,” Driver said. “I think that’s a tired message and students don’t relate.”
Instead, it shows how a tiff between best friends and the desire to impress a potential date fuel the bullying with unintended consequences: such as a video depicting one of the girls as a cow that goes viral and causes people to moo at her in the halls or an online thread about all of the reasons people hate a person, telling her to drown herself. Moreover, the play protrays people who know about the bullying and try to handle it themselves in the wrong way or ignore it all together.
“We hope we are showing a glimpse of themselves,” Driver said. “They may know they aren’t a bully or don’t have Facebook, but you see the guy not doing anything when he sees the girl he likes bullying someone. ... 90-percent of them know they are not a target or don’t want to be a bully, but there is a real possibility they are the bystander. That’s the biggest, easiest way that they let bullying happen.”
After the performance, students were asked what characters should have done. A scene was recreated using those suggestions.
Being college students, Hunter said she hopes they can be more relatable and serve as role models to spread the message.
“It shows students that we take the issue seriously,” Hunter said. “Bullying is not a typical middle school experience.”
Davidson College students hope to return to the schools to hold theater workshops to teach other ways of handling situations.