Yes, it's been about 6 months since I've last posted on here... I've been busy (blah blah) and I guess I haven't felt motivated that I had something interesting or important to write about that couldn't be covered in 20 words or less, or via photo on facebook.
That being said, tonight I am incredibly inspired. And impressed. And upset. And those things together make me motivated to write.
Mean by the Youth Performance Company this evening. If you're my Facebook friend, or a longtime reader (which, most of you probably are because most of you are probably my friends and family), you've likely seen posts from me about this show before because this is now my third time seeing it in the past 3 years. And, if they do it again next year, I'll go again.
I have no doubt that many people are now aware that October is Bullying Prevention Month, given the recent press about Jennifer Livingston (who, by the way, I applaud). Well, Mean is about this very topic and focuses on the stories of three teenage students who are bullied because of different things - weight, religion, and sexual orientation. In addition to those main stories, there are snippets from other students who talk about being bullied because they are poor, disabled, dyslexic, or they wear glasses, or are a different race. Periodically throughout the show, the lights dim and news clips of actual stories of teens who were bullied and, in many cases, of teens who committed suicide as a result of bullying are played - and it's a hard reminder that this is real and not just a performance.
Before the show, the founder of YPC explained to us why they decided to do this show. She told us that she would come to the office and hear the teens talk about something their "friend" did or said to them that was just horrible. And she wondered why they considered these people "friends." The tipping point was when she heard a story of a boy who, when he was biking home from school, was stopped by his "friends" because of a dispute over a video game - they poured rubbing alcohol on him and started him on fire. (getting uncomfortable yet? good. I'd be worried if you weren't.) She said she saw the mother of this boy on the Today show, saying that she would spend every extra moment she had to work to try to prevent this from happening to someone else... and encouraged those who have a platform to get the word out to do the same. And guess what? YPC had a platform. She went into the office that morning and told the team they were going to do a show about bullying and it was going to be called Mean, because that's what people could be.
The show was written by an alum of YPC who interviewed teens about their experience - and the things now depicted in the show are based on actual stories. The music is moving and wonderful, and the teens performing and singing are so amazing and talented. Three years later, they are doing their third run of the show and I'm glad I've been to each one. I think it keeps getting better and better.
After the show, there was a time for discussion and, because it was educators night, it was a bit of a different situation than they are normally in - where teens may be talking to teens. But here, educators had a chance to talk to teens. The teens are from various schools around the metro area; one student said he went to school online; a couple were in college; and one was a home-schooled student from Wisconsin. A very diverse group from different backgrounds. The teens talked about their own experiences being bullied. One girl said she was locked in a bathroom for an hour or two and no other students helped her. She had to wait for a teacher or administrator to come in and find her because no one told or helped until then. Another talked about the importance of listening if a child or teen tells you that something is wrong, sharing her experience of going through junior high asking for help, but no one believing her. These stories are heartbreaking and real - but I'm so glad they were so open with us because I'm sure it wasn't easy.
They talked about how doing the show has impacted them. A few of the students are from a local school that had a cyberbullying issue recently and, in response, a group of students started a twitter account that complimented rather than criticized. (Pretty awesome.) Others talked about how the experience made them aware that even the little things we say can have huge impact without us realizing and the need to think about what we say is so important. And, what maybe stuck with me the most on this topic was something an educator in the audience shared. She said that her school brought a group of students to the show last year; on the bus on the way home a boy was bullying a girl on the bus and she was crying. The best friend of the bully stood up for her to his friend and said "Didn't you hear what they just told us?!" So clearly this show has an impact.
So why am I so upset? Yes, I'm upset that bullying happens. But that's not the biggest reason I'm upset at this very moment. During the discussion period, people were asking "how do we get the word out? and how do we get more people to hear this message?" YPC shared with us that they recently had a school reserve 600 tickets for students at the school to come to a daytime showing of the show. Then, they asked to see a copy of a previous performance. And then, YPC was informed that the school was pulling their reservation for 600 tickets because they felt the content was inappropriate for their students because they objected to the portrayal of a gay character.
This is why I'm upset. What does this teach the kids and the community? If you think that ignoring or not exposing kids or teens to a character who is gay is going to somehow magically shelter them from the issue... get real. The reality is that kids (and adults) are going to be exposed, at some point or another to diversity, whether that's through sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, or any other number things. And that exposure is not going make them "catch something" that will make them gay or feel the need to convert to another religion. By not accepting the reality and not teaching kids that - regardless of your beliefs - you need to be respectful, kind, and supportive, it is promoting division and separation.
It's completely unacceptable to pick and choose in which situations bullying is ignored or wrong because the answer is pretty straightforward: It's never OK. And that is what we should be teaching. If you could have seen the YPC staff and the youth performers as they talked about this situation, it was clear how incredibly hurt they were by being told that the content of their show was "inappropriate" when the intention is to inform, help to begin really difficult discussions on a sensitive subject (successfully), and to promote an end to bullying.
On top of that, YPC is a nonprofit organization that does amazing things in the community and provides a number of not only performance opportunities, but leadership and education opportunities. Once you have a chance to hear from the performers in person, the stories blow you away. And to cancel 600 tickets that had been committed (you do the math) is a pretty big hit to a nonprofit.
I guess my point is this: mean people suck. But the performance, Mean, is amazing. I ask you to please support YPC by going to see the show sometime before October 14.
Stand Up! (and bring a friend)