Intense performances by high school players bring home the sometimes deadly consequences of bullying.
By Brandon HENSLEY
It happens in cyberspace to the girl who logs on to chat. It happens to the girl who battles weight issues. It happens to the boy who is emotionally abused by his girlfriend, and it happens to so many others in countless other circumstances, sometimes producing fatal outcomes.
This past week, the Falcon Players Theater Group addressed the subject of bullying in their play “22% Fear,” which was held inside the CVHS MacDonald Auditorium last Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The play is based on a survey taken at the school last spring that said 22% of students felt bullied or otherwise uncomfortable at school. Students anonymously submitted stories of their ordeals and drama teacher Brent Beerman wrote the script based on those experiences. The music was written by Kathi Chaplar.
Cast members dressed in dark clothing while portraying their versions of the students’ stories, including a boy who was kicked out of his home by his parents for telling them he was gay. Some parts were done in monologue form, while some were acted out.
The play went through a screening process for the faculty in late January, and the cast also performed shortened versions of it at school assemblies in preparation of the weekend performances.
Initially, Beerman wrote the script last summer and based some of it on his experience of being bullied as a kid. He took it to his cast, but they rejected it.
“It made sense, because it wasn’t their story. It was me telling their story,” he said in a discussion with the audience afterward on Saturday.
Beerman warned against taking the mindset that 78% percent of the kids surveyed felt safe. He said the 22% who felt uncomfortable is far too big a number at CV.
“Let’s pretend that a whole bunch of kids that took the survey didn’t take it seriously,” he said. “Let’s pretend it’s 10%. That’s still a lot of kids.”
At Saturday’s performance, family members of Ricky Huffines were in attendance. Huffines, a CVHS grad, and a friend were attacked by two men in Bullhead City, Ariz., in October 2010 after Huffines made a remark regarding one of the men’s shorts. This led them to believe Huffines was gay (Huffines was not). Huffines suffered severe head injuries and later died. He was 24. His attacker, John Floyd Castillo, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2011.
A letter Huffines’ sister Kerri Kinney wrote to CVHS teacher Jennifer Abrams last year was used as a central storytelling device in the play. Kinney wrote to Abrams in support of forming the school’s anti-harassment committee.
A tense moment of the show came when several cast members reenacted the attack, which included Jordan Van Treese, playing Castillo, slamming Demitri Camperos – who played Huffines – against a wall and kicking him repeatedly.
Kinney and her sister Erin Beach said they thought the scene and the play itself was done well.
“It was a good thing to bring awareness, but it was kind of like we were reliving it a little bit,” said Erin. “I wasn’t there [when the crime happened], so seeing them reenact it was emotional.”
“I read the script, so I was a little prepared but it was a lot more overwhelming than I expected,” said Kinney. “My heart was beating out of my chest, especially in the scene with Ricky. It was tearful for me.”
Members of the family all wore orange scarves to the play, scarves was part of Huffines’ signature style and orange was his favorite color. He was wearing a scarf when he was attacked.
“I thought it was great,” Kinney said. “It was definitely something that we wanted to do to increase awareness and make something good out something terrible.”
Van Treese said he wanted to do the scene justice and give Ricky and his family proper respect.
“I was going to tone it down because I had originally made it more intense and hurtful,” he said. “I wanted to be as truthful with the choreography as I could. It was hard for me every night to go out there because I know that scene is one of the most intense scenes in the entire play and it impacts people.”
The Falcon Players will take “22% Fear” to Rosemont Middle School on Wednesday. Beerman said the script will not be changed in any way.
“We all agreed that it would be a very powerful message to start at an earlier age,” said Rosemont Principal Cynthia Livingston, who saw the play with CVHS faculty members. “The stories these students share in high school, it’s possible these issues started before they got to high school, even in elementary school.”
Livingston said her assistant principals meet with students two times a year to discuss expectation about proper student behavior, and the school works with BullySafeUSA, a national program founded in 2002.
The play will be held all day in the Rosemont cafeteria, and Livingston said there won’t be enough room for parents to attend, although they were encouraged to see the play at CVHS.
Van Treese said he expects the Rosemont students to be impacted.
“They look up to us so … I think they’re going to take it more seriously because these aren’t adults performing in front of them. These are people who are only a few years older than them.”