Victor doesn’t know where to turn when the school bully won’t stop picking on him. Victor’s teacher and coach barely seem to notice. Victor’s parents aren’t helping much with the “just ignore it” advice.
What’s a kid to do? Take the stoic route and endure the ridicule? Do the opposite and rat the bully out? Hope for a surge of superhuman strength and beat the bully to a bloody pulp?
It turns out that Victor’s friend has a better idea.
This scenario is part of “Taking the Bully by the Horns,” a community project of the Potomac Theatre Company. Members Marla Reich and Sue Schaffel first performed four years ago, and they have since performed it in front of nearly 10,000 students in Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.
REICH WANTED to be involved in such a project after she saw footage of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Reich asked a friend who writes character education songs in Florida to compose “Taking the Bully.”
The play doesn’t address bullies with guns or other weapons, but Reich and Schaffel agree that it is important for adults to address bullying behavior before it reaches such a level.
“We show you typical, ‘Give me your candy bar or I’m gonna punch you in the face’ bullying.”
Reich plays Victor, the victim of bullies Taurus and Ox. Victor’s teacher disregards the bullies’ behavior, as does Victor’s coach. His parents tell him to just ignore it. “It’s a very typical family dynamic,” Schaffel said.
Through a friend, Victor learns to “turn the insult into a compliment.” They role-play back and forth about how to put a positive face on being called a “baby” or likened to an animal.
The important thing, said Reich, is to standing up to the bully. “When you show that it gets to you, it makes [the bully] feel bigger inside. … If you start crying or run away, they’re going to keep calling you those names.”
The play also deals with the perspective of the bullies, who are themselves being bullied at home. Because they suffer there, the bullies are determined to make their peers at school suffer.
“THIS IS THE cheesiest show around,” Schaffel said, “but the message is so important.”
If the musical format gives “Taking the Bully” a bit of cheesiness, Reich said it has virtues for a young audience.
“It’s very easy for kids to remember everything in a song,” she said.
Not every tactic the play’s characters undertake will work in all real-life situations, Schaffel and Reich agreed.
“This show doesn’t have all the answers,” Schaffel said. “In my opinion, the best thing about it is that it opens up lines of communication and starts a dialogue.”