I was bullied in high school. A lot. Each hallway sojourn from class to class was a veritable minefield, with taunts, shoves, kicks and the occasional pop-can missile aimed at the “faggot.” Lunch times were spent hiding, and escaping home was a daily relief. It was hell, frankly. But as horrible as my — and so many of my contemporaries’ — memories are, they pale in comparison to the far-reaching capabilities of this generation’s bullying tactics, courtesy of social media and cellphones. There is literally nowhere for these kids to hide.
Things are certainly better in some ways than in my day. Anti-bullying programs offer some support, as do the gay-straight alliances that many schools harbour. But one of the best ways to combat ignorance and hatred can be to offer a bird’s-eye view of how hard it is to be a victim of bullying — a mission that Roseneath Theatre has taken to heart.
Roseneath has been taking plays about issues facing today’s youth to schools since 1983. Each year they perform for up to 100,000 students, highlighting topical material that relates to their audiences in a personal way. Issues like substance abuse, relationships, home life and sexuality are presented in an honest and entertaining way, giving audiences the chance to see scenarios from their own lives played out from an outside perspective.
The theatre group’s newest production is Outside, written by Dora-nominated playwright Paul Dunn. Inspired by increasing media coverage of LGBT suicides among young people, the play tells the story of Daniel, a gay kid who is forced from his high school by bullies, and the friends he was forced to leave behind.
“What I love about this show is that the gay character isn’t doomed,” says Andrew Lamb, Roseneath’s artistic director and the director of Outside. “We know right from the beginning that Daniel survives, so it makes it easier for us to deal with the issues of depression and suicide without being worried we’ll lose him.”
The play takes place over two lunch hours, with Daniel telling his story to his new high school’s gay-straight alliance, while his friends Christina and Jeremy attempt to get a GSA started at his old school. As the three recount Daniel’s tale, it illustrates not only the horror of living with bullying, but the sadness of friends having to watch it take place.
Pretty intense issues, aimed at an age group that often struggles with sexuality and empathy. But Lamb believes plays like Outside help students relate to the issues without personal risk — an essential element to honest and open discourse.
“It enables them to take ownership of the issue through art,” he says. “It gives them the opportunity to talk about it, without talking about themselves, so it’s safer emotionally for them. But of course, they’re actually talking about themselves.”
Outside will enjoy its first-ever public reading with a special event at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre this month, before beginning a tour of Ontario schools. Anne Creighton, the president of PFLAG Toronto, will offer opening remarks, and the performance will be followed by a post-show question-and-answer session.