Students highlight bullying with play in wake of Haughton tragedy
In high school, everyone fits a stereotype. There’s the athlete, the popular kid, the nerd, the outsider – just to name a few. However, a group of Bossier students are trying to break those barriers in order to increase acceptance for all through a short play that exposes the everyday challenges of high school.
The Bossier Talented Arts theater program will present two showings of “The Way It Is” by Lucile McIntyre, a production that explores the lives of 11 teenagers as they deal with self-esteem issues, overbearing parents, passing the ACT, relationships and suicide. A cast of 45 students from area high schools are divided into three casts to perform in the play under the direction of Shannon Shea.
The play will debut in a timely manner with the recent suicide of a Haughton High School student.
And bullying is not an isolated incident with 113 reported cases last year according to Bossier Parish School officials.
Shea, Bossier's High School Talented Theater teacher, said the students were passionate about the play from the very beginning, expressing interest in helping their peers overcome personal challenges.
“This was something the students felt there was a need to address,” Shea said. “When we first read through the script, I had the kids raise their hand when they related to a character. There was not a single character that someone couldn’t relate to.”
Alisyn Kelly, a sophomore at Parkway High School, portrays a character that has self-esteem issues – feeling that she is not pretty enough for anyone to like her.
“It’s a real look into teenage life,” Kelly said. “I’ve experienced some of the things as my character, but I’ve also felt pressure from passing the ACT.”
After being on stage and living out her character, Kelly said there came a point where she had a breakthrough – high school isn’t about impressing others with your looks.
“All that matters is who I am and having others accept me for who I am,” Kelly said. “I can definitely see how it really is in high school.”
Shea said the theater students have taken the production seriously because of the subject matter. The ultimate lesson, she said, is to forget about stereotypes and be more accepting of every individual.
“It’s about breaking the walls, not building them,” she said.
The cast also did research on several topics, including the relationship that exists between bullying and suicide. Their findings are revealed at the conclusion of the production.
Aside from acceptance, they want students to know it is ok to talk about their feelings instead of holding them in.
“You really can talk to others about what’s going on in your life,” Shea said. “It doesn’t have to come down to a dire circumstance when you feel that it’s the end of the road.”
Social workers and counselors from Bossier Schools will be on-hand for students and parents to talk to after each performance. Kristi Schott, a social worker for Bossier Schools, said students often come see her because they are simply looking for someone to talk to about depression or bullying.
“The issues are real and some parents don’t know how to handle them,” Schott said.
Schott was not only at the play to help others, but to support her daughter as she defeats her own stereotype. Ellie Schott, a freshman at Benton High School, plays the role of a “dumb blonde,” which Kristi said is the opposite of what her daughter really is.
For Kelly, the show is a reminder of how minor some issues really are.
“It puts your problems into perspective when you see a classmate or friend going through suicidal issues,” Kelly said. “Life is a blessing and our teenage problems are temporary. Keep pushing forward and don’t resort to that permanent solution.”
Shea was introduced to “The Way It Is” during her high school years. Although she never got to perform in the show, Shea said she now has a better appreciation for its message and what it’s doing for her students.
“It holds so much more power now because the issues it deals with are much more prevalent with the Internet and how hard these kids are on themselves,” she said.
“Because I see how passionate they are about it, it helps me feel what the audience is feeling and it’s an incredible feeling.”