Last August I took a mini road trip with my best friend to climb Mount Katahdin and meet some retired circus elephants. We piled in the car and headed north on Route One. Inside the elephant sanctuary, we met two massive and beautiful creatures who were rocking to their own rhythm. A friendly voice then said: “Did you know that elephants love reggae?” We turned and met Dr. Jim, opening his presentation for us visitors with a joke and a smile.
As I watched Rosie and Opal swaying that day, they reminded me of every kid I’ve ever met: massive, playful, personal and loving. (Yes, I did just call kids massive — most are in our small theatre!) Rosie’s story of how she was pushed by Isla reminded me of the countless stories I’ve heard our actors share about bullies in their schools. Like elephants, kids are herd animals. They can be kind and loving, but also jealous, territorial and possessive.
Bullying is an epidemic in our society. Despite the best efforts of educators and psychologists, classroom bullying is not going anywhere. Social media seems to have intensified the phenomenon.
In 2011 I had the privilege to work with leading anti-bullying expert Stan Davis on a touring theatrical piece called “Youth Voices Onstage”. We traveled to classrooms with a troupe of young actors (Aiden Davenport was one of the original members of this cast!), conducting story circles and using playback theatre to restage the events that children shared with us. That piece posited that there’s an opportunity for new kindness and friendship behind every act of cruelty – a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. Such opportunities can arrive in the guise of a considerate classmate, a caring adult, or even — in Rosie’s case — a veterinarian who kept a thirty-year promise.