The children file in, the smallest ones first, looking around anxiously, with the curiosity of youth on each of their faces.
The older ones follow, some trying to appear cool and nonchalant, until more than 100 Grade 4 to 8 students are seated on the floor of Tecumseh Public School gymnasium.
They’re here to see “Roar,” this year’s edition of the anti-bullying production by drama students at John McGregor Secondary School. By the time the show is over, they’ll have learned more about themselves than anything else.
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JMSS drama teacher Kim Lewis leads the group of budding performers from behind a soundboard.
“I didn’t know how to work it but one time we didn’t have anyone else, so I learned,” she said. “It just means we can have a student performing instead of back here.”
This is the 12th year for the effort, which is written, choreographed, scored and performed by students.
“Each year, I take the students to breakfast, and we share our experiences” Lewis said. “They build the production from their own background, using symbols and music which mean something to them. That keeps it fresh and relevant.”
This year’s four-week tour includes more than 20 schools from Wheatley to Brigden. When it’s over more than 2,000 students will have seen the production.
“We get the message out to thousands, but if we reach only one or two per school, it’s still worth it,” Lewis said, proudly wearing her cast T-shirt with “Mama Lew” on the back.
As the lights dim, Katy Perry’s anthem to empowerment, “Roar,” fills the gym, and the 12 high school students begin to dance.
The music stops and the show transitions into skits, including “I’m a Girl” and “Pokemon.” Before the students know it, they’re learning how appearances can be deceiving, and everyone is an individual.
“I love it when we see the kids smile” said cast member Chris Dick, a sentiment shared by Roar’s Mary VanDenBossche.
“The fact that we can make a difference to even one kid in the audience gives me such a good feeling,” she said.
The show, which lasts just under an hour, contains original music, including “No Need for Heroes,” a composition by VanDenBossche and Tim Sellars, which implores children to “stop looking in the mirror, it doesn’t matter how we look.”
Each cast member shares how he or she has encountered bullying. With each story, students in the audience begin to nod in agreement and look at one another.
“We’ve all been bullied,” said Mike Lariviere.
Zoe Burbank said the connection when younger students realize, “hey, you’re like me,” is something she can feel while performing.
After a short skit about the pressure on young people to begin dating, the first notes of “What Does the Fox Say?” flare up, leading to some members of the audience to “floor dance” as cast members with appropriate animal costumes dance to the hit song to lighten the mood.
Performers Isabella Bates and Jessica Miller both comment that they get as much out of the performance as the audience.
For Lewis, the project has also been one that has benefitted her individually.
“When I look at the students, when I see people coming together who wouldn’t ordinarily be part of the same circle, when I see them finding that their similarities as people are more important than their differences, I feel very privileged to be part of this group. We have athletes, artists, scholars, a terrific mix. We’re breaking down doors and stereotypes,” she said.
The performance examines issues such as puberty, body image and depression. A session about cyber bullying exercises a surreal use of black light to convey the power of online comments.
A soliloquy discussing the pain of someone who has been bullied brings the audience to silence.
Do you ever want to run away?
Do you lock yourself in your room?
With the radio on turned up so loud
That no one hears you’re screaming?
In the finale, performers read the names and locations of 12 young people from across Canada who have lost their lives due to bullying.
When “Myles Neuts, Chatham, Ont.,” is read, students know how real and how close the issue is to them.
Teachers, parents and some students dab their eyes. One student is overcome by grief and has to leave the gym.
A short question-and-answer session ends and a number of students accept the invitation so discuss things one-on-one with a cast member. Some even ask for autographs.
For Lewis, it’s another day of helping her students make a difference.
“This doesn’t get old,” she said. “I’m very lucky.”
Members of Roar are: Isabelle Bates, Rob Britton, Zoe Burbank, Chris Dick, Mike Lariviere, Lyndi Longbottom, Wesley Middlebrook, Jessica Miller, Hannah Nicholls, Steven Price, Tim Sellars, Mary VanDenBossche.
i am so proud of this work your are sharing with others – keep on growing