I was never popular.
I was never athletic.
I was never confident.
When I reach into the shadows of my memories I find a faint memory of first grade. I was the only student who was left handed. My teacher tried hard to get me to hold my crayons with my right hand. She never won. I sported a hair cut looked a little like a bowl was placed on my head and then trimmed around the bottom. My family was poor and most, if not all my clothing came from large trash bags full of hand-me-downs that we sorted through and picked what made us happy.
First grade was the first time I felt lonely. First grade was the first time I realized I was different than most kids. The other kids made fun of my thick whole wheat sandwich with a bit of peanut butter for lunch. They poked fun at what I wore. They poked fun at my clothing and hair styles. They whispered about the size of my family (I am the oldest of 7 kids). They would push me about because I held a pencil with my left hand and couldn’t use scissors (there were no left handed scissors in my class room).
By the time I got to 6th grade the teasing had increased. I was always the last one picked. I was often asked to sit out on the side… maybe just to keep score. I was awkward. I had trouble making friends. I didn’t know I was bullied. The word bully wasn’t common then. Besides, Who would push me down to steal my sandwich? I learned to keep to myself. Even if I tried to stay to myself and eat lunch alone, sitting with my back up against the tennis court fence, kids would still find ways to torment me. I was even tied to that fence with my pant strings. It was hours before a teacher realized I was missing and came to get me. bullied. Kids poked fun of my name. I with drew. I learned to cope reading books and imaging the stories that I read and playing make-believe.
I was introduced to choir in junior high and theater in high school and my make-believe world shifted… the magic of music and theater captured me. I was never “the star,” but my confidence grew. I learned to have empathy for all types and kinds of people. I learned to see the world from different perspectives. I learned that the performance arts was a powerful tool for social change and entertainment.
In August, my friend Jeff approached me with a script. He wanted to do Bang Bang You’re Dead in a production class at school. The script spoke to me. I had felt pressure, loneliness, isolation, and misunderstood. It wasn’t about guns and not really about violence. I understood that the story revolved around a school shooting, loosely based on a shooting at Thurston High School in Eugene, Oregon. But it wasn’t about shooting, killing, guns and such. The true topic of the show appeared in the last 10 minutes of the show. In those 10 minutes the author wrapped up principles, lessons and emotions in a pretty little package and then dropped it off a cliff, forcing the reader/viewer to deal with subjects and emotions all to often ignored and hidden because they are too painful to surface. The lessons of this story revolve around reaching out to the one, kindness, forgiveness, living life to it’s fullest.
My favorite part of this experience was watching these kids wake up to the reality that their choices do effect others. We had great discussions about stopping bullying and increasing kindness. We got to talk about issues such as mental illness and gun control. We discussed what motivates a person to do what they do.
At the end of each performance the cast was part of a talk back with audience members. The maturity and growth that Jeff and I had witnessed was demonstrated in the thoughtful answer the students gave to the audiences questions and comments. This experience proved that these high school students are that much more ready to be contributing members of our community.
One person can make a difference.
Love and forgiveness does make the world a better place.
We do not understand the minds of others until we have walked in their shoes.
This experience was therapeutic for me. Those out cast feelings I had experienced as a young student many years ago, didn’t hurt so much as we discussed the topic of this play, as I watched these kids develop, as we all realized together that we all have these moments and we are in this together.
Although we had full houses for each performance, and even added seats and performances, I wish more people could have experiences this remarkable play and these talented performers.