2011 Cast of Mean
Photo courtesy YPC
As part of October's National Bullying Prevention Month, Youth Performing Company will present MEAN. The play opens this weekend at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, and is a musical based on real-life stories of teen victims. In it, teens are singled out for their appearance, their religion, and their sexuality. However, the victims eventually discover that they are not alone, and stand up to the bullies after realizing that it's okay to be different.
The production premiered in 2010, and has been so successful that it's being brought back for a third run.
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Some of the kids performing in the show say that there are moments that are very close to their own experience, as some of them have been bullied or have witnessed bullying.
Ian Udulutch, a ninth grader at St. Paul Conservatory for the Arts, says that he had to switch schools twice because of bullying. At his previous schools, he was teased for being different, and for not playing sports. He says bullying happens when "people don't know how to deal" with others who think or act differently than them. In the rehearsal process for the show, he says, the students shared their own stories, as well as articles about the bullying issue.
Maggie Cramer, a senior at Washburn High School, has seen the effects of bullying first hand. There was a recent incident of cyberbullying at her school where students were posting anonymous "burns" against other students via Twitter, such as making fun of Muslim students or calling girls whores or other terrible names. Though she wasn't affected personally, she stood up to the cyberbullies using her own Twitter handle. She was also called into a meeting with all of the students who had been "burned" to talk about what to do about it. (The tweets have since all been taken down.)
Cast members Robert Jackson, Ian Udulutch and Maggie Cramer
Cramer says a policemen at the school advised the students to get off Twitter, but she doesn't see that as a viable solution to the bullying problem.
At the same time, cyberbullying does put the issue in a whole different realm. Cyberbullying is "not so in your face," says Washburn student Robert Jackson. In the case of an anonymous Twitter account, it doesn't allow the victim to even know who is doing the bullying.
For artistic director Jacie Knight, the internet world has created "all new ways for kids to bully," she says. "It's much more public."
Two years ago, Knight came up with the idea for the show after hearing stories from kids that she worked with about bullying and mean behavior from their supposed friends. She worked with the show's playwright, Rita Cannon, to write the show along with Kahlil Queen, who wrote the music and lyrics.
"As a culture, civility has gone out the window," Knight says. She's observed that kids don't recognize what is inappropriate because they're getting all these messages in the media -- even in Congress -- that doesn't support compromise. "My goal is to put an end to the epidemic of bullying," she says.
Cast members Shawn Chromey, Carleton Moller-Reed, Erin Aye and Peyton Dixon
Unfortunately, not all school districts are ready for the message. One school cancelled a 600-seat reservation when the principal viewed a video of last year's production, and objected to the portrayal of a gay character. "Sometimes schools and administrators struggle with this issue," she says. "It's the elephant in the room." It's unfortunate that schools aren't ready to tackle the issue, she says. "Our kids need us to be real."
Friday, September 28 through October 14
Howard Conn Fine Arts Center
1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis