Fighting bullying with the Bard
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis produced two originals plays with student actors about the perils of bullying this year, including Winning Juliet, which portrays an incidence of cyber-bullying. Photo by Wiley Price
Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:45 pm
By Bridjes O'Neil | 0 comments
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis opened its new production of Twelfth Night in Forest Park on Friday, but it recently closed two satellite productions by area students in public and private schools.
The festival’s semester-long MetroYouth Shakespeare residency program recently wrapped its productions of Winning Juliet and Quick Delight 12th Night, original plays about the perils of cyber-bullying produced by the festival with student actors.
“The real core of MetroYouth is bringing together a group of diverse high schools to create a piece of theatre together,” said Rick Dildine, executive director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
The diverse group of schools involved with the productions included Cahokia High School, Clayton High School, Clyde C. Miller Academy, Grand Center Arts Academy, Lutheran High School North, and Seckman High School, Villa Duchesne & Oak Hill School Webster Groves High School and Windsor High School
Harris-Stowe State University and St. Louis Homeschool Network also participated.
The plot of Winning Juliet, a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet, revolves around the antagonistic relationship between Julie, a new student at the fictitious Stratford High (played by Abigail Oldham of Webster Groves High School), and Gweneth, played by Dasia Vence of Clyde C. Miller Career Academy.
As in many Shakespeare plots, there is a play within a play. The two girls come into conflict over auditions for a play. Julie fears auditioning for the lead role in the school play because of student harassment orchestrated by Gweneth, who also covets the role.
“Gweneth is Miss Popular and everyone is intimidated by her,” Vence said. “Gweneth gets into it with Julie because Julie tries to steal her shine and compete with her.”
Gweneth uses social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to attack her classmate and rival.
News reports and research on the prevalence of cyber-bullying among youth prompted Dildine to initiate an anti-bullying campaign about a year and a half ago. The festival’s MetroYouth Shakespeare troupe also produced Quick Delight 12th Night, another educational touring show on bullying performed by students.
“In light of the cyber-bullying issues occurring in schools and on social media sites nationwide, we felt this was an appropriate time to focus attention on it,” Dildine said. “We’re using the power of the theatre to build awareness, teach empathy and support communication.”
Vence was joined onstage in supporting roles by Rachelle Martin (Khadija) and Aevion Dancy (Carmen), students at Grand Center Arts Academy. Like the lead character, both girls said they have experienced bullying.
“There were harsh incidents where I would come home with rashes on my neck from being attacked,” Dancy said of a middle school experience. “Being in a play like this, I wanted to be a part of it because it was like telling a story. I always wanted someone to know my story.”
Martin’s experiences with bullying were less physical and more verbal. After a home perm severely damaged her hair, she said, she felt ostracized and often came home in tears. She reminded herself that despite her differences, it didn’t matter whether or not people accepted her, as long as she accepted herself.
In 11 seasons, MetroYouth Shakespeare has provided over 1,200 students the opportunity to perform Shakespeare onstage. Winning Juliet was directed by Emily Kohring and written by Elizabeth Birkenmeier and Christopher Limber. Four public performances were held at Clayton High School.
The story can be accessed here.