BY ANNE ANTENUCCI
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, or so the familiar children's rhyme goes. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been bullied can attest, words also have the ability to hurt. According to the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, at least one in three adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently and any participation in bullying increases risk of suicidal ideas in youth. Knowing that words have immense power, Magnus Theatre is attempting to harness them to bring light to this important issue through a new play creation project for teenagers.
At the start of November 2015, a group of local high school students began meeting after school at Magnus twice a week. Our newest production, Blocked, was the result of these meetings. Written and performed by local teenagers, Blocked hopes to educate the general public - specifically youth - about the dangers of bullying and misusing social media and electronic devices such as computers, cell phones and tablets. Thank you to the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, the United Way of Thunder Bay's Youth 4 Community program and to all the youth participants for making this project possible.
The students met with Theatre in Education Animateur Danielle Chandler to discuss their personal experiences with bullying before the writing process began. Kamryn Woloschuk, a Grade 9 student at Hammarskjold High School, states that this play was "written by people who understand what they're writing about. It's important that this play was written by teenagers because it becomes more believable. People in our group have experienced situations like the one in the play before."
After several group brainstorming sessions where a loose plot was developed, students split into two groups to workshop and write the dual storylines of the play: one set in 1996 before cyber bullying was prevalent, and the other set in 2016. Both groups used a process in which they discussed a scene, improvised it and then showed it to the entire group and Danielle for feedback before committing it to paper. Editing and rewriting were done during and after the script's completion to shape the final draft, which audiences will see performed.
The purpose of creating this play for presentation on the Magnus Theatre stage is to create awareness in the community of bullying as it exists in high schools, and further, to motivate youth to consider the consequences of their actions, both online and off. According to Emma Seeley, a Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute, "teenagers should come see this play because it's relevant to them. We tried our best to write a story that felt real and true because teenagers actually do struggle with the things we wrote about, and we wanted it to resonate with them. Even if you personally haven't dealt with bullying or cyberbullying, this is an opportunity to see the damage it can cause, and that it's not something to be taken lightly."
"I hope people see the problem and address it in their own lives in a positive way," agrees Mitchell Loon, a Grade 11 student at Westgate CVI.
Blocked runs June 6-9 and tickets are $8 each. To book tickets, please call the Magnus Theatre box office at 345-5552.
- Submitted by Anne Antenucci, Magnus Theatre