Bullying: Stuttgart Theatre Center play takes closer look at growing problem in schools

Those who have been keeping tabs on recent media coverage know that bullying is a rapidly growing concern in schools today. “Cyber-bullying” is the latest trend: using the Internet, social media and cell phones to ridicule or hurt others.

In an effort to bring awareness on bullying to the community, the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Stuttgart Theatre Center is performing a one-act play about it: “The Secret Life of Girls,” by Linda Daugherty.

The play focuses on middle-school girls who are both on the giving and receiving end of gossiping, name-calling, exclusion, cliques and cyber-bullying, as they try to fit in and discover who they are.

“I want the youth to be able to connect with it, [or] recognize someone that they know,” said Barb Heidt, show director. She also hopes parents will see the show and ask their children about whether or not they deal with bullying at school.

“I really wanted to facilitate a dialogue between parents and their children,” she said. “This needs to be said.” The show, presented by the Stuttgart Entertainment Branch, will be performed Oct. 22 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 23 and 30 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Kelley Theater on Kelley Barracks.

Following each one-hour performance will be a 15-minute “talk back” session on bullying, led by Joe Holder, Youth and School Services in USAG Stuttgart.

“Everybody knows a bully, or has been bullied,” said Holder, who became a SLO in August after being principal in a K-8 rural school in the U.S. He recently attended a conference on bullying and gang violence in Heidelberg, called “Community Strong,” which gave him a toolbox of methods for dealing with bullies here in Stuttgart.

 “It’s more and more prevalent in school systems,” he added.

A rising number of bullying cases nationwide caused the USAG Stuttgart command group and Department of Defense Dependents Schools officials to request more bullying prevention training for students here.

USAG Stuttgart Army Community Service, which already teaches cyber-bullying prevention to students in grades 7-12, was asked to teach bullying prevention as well.

“It’s a big issue,” said Monica Sadler, ACS Family Advocacy Program manager. “We just hired a new FAP specialist and FAP educator. We’re in the process of implementing a new program for this school year.”

Meanwhile, ACS will continue to tell students about the dangers of cyber-bullying, which Holder believes is contributing to an increase in bullying in general.

“It’s so much easier because you’re not face to face,” he said. “There’s more anonymity.”

In “The Secret Life of Girls”, the “bully” is a girl named Stephanie who manipulates other girls with the traditional silent treatment and gossiping, but also through the Internet and cell phone technology.

“Basically, it’s very manipulative bullying, not very outright, through texts, using people, using relationships to gain leverage,” said Leah Boxley, 15, who plays Stephanie.

These are issues girls deal with in school every day, Boxley added. “I definitely think it’s really relevant to middle school age years — there are so many mean girls at school [then],” she said.

Boxley remembers being bullied when she attended a private school in the U.S., and hopes the play will help other girls being bullied to know that they’re not alone.

“I really want it to be directed toward young girls, for them to basically know they’re not the only ones going through this type of thing,” she said.

“Hopefully, some girls will find an end to it [and] stand up to what they’re struggling with,” she added.

Bullying can be addressed, mitigated, and even unlearned, according to Holder.

“That’s where, hopefully, the play will come in,” Holder said.

During the talk-back sessions after each show, Holder will direct a “re-do” scene from the play, in which characters that didn’t stand up to a bully in the show get the chance to try again, with help from the audience.

“Typically, if a bully starts to bully and if we have somebody to resist and defend, it won’t escalate,” Holder said. “In other words, somebody has to stand up.”

Although the play focuses on teen girls, Holder said it’s important to remember that bullying happens with children of both sexes, at all ages. “It’s across the board,” he said. “It’s not just girls bullying girls and boys bullying boys … sometimes it’s girls bullying boys [and vice versa].”

However, instances of bullying are highest during transition years in school, such as third and fourth grade, and again in seventh and eighth grade, Holder said.

Kathryn Nevins is another actress in the play who portrays the mother of Abby, the girl being bullied. The role is familiar to Nevins, who recalled when her own son had a hard time with bullying in elementary school.

“One day he came home and said ‘I can’t go to school tomorrow.’ I said ‘Why?’ and he said ‘They’re going to beat me up,’” she said.

At that time, Nevins just went to the school to sort out the problem. However, as her children grew older, helping them was not as easy, she added.

Similarly, Nevins described the character of Abby’s mother as “clueless” that her daughter is getting bullied, then unsure what to do when she finds out.

It’s a picture of many real parents today, Nevins said. She hopes the show and the sessions will teach parents that talking to their kids really does help.

“I hope what people will do is remember to talk,” she said.

In USAG Stuttgart, “The Secret Life of Girls” aims to provide a forum for this type of discussion, in hopes of ending and preventing bullying.

For ticket reservations, call the Stuttgart Theatre Center at 421-3055/civ. 0711-729-3055.