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The Bystander Effect – Morgan

Souderton, PA is a town I hold close to my heart as I have performed there for the past eleven years. Each year I visit, I am greeted with an outstanding group of kids who always put forth such a tremendous effort. Many of the students I have worked with there have kept in touch over the years. One such student, is Morgan. She was memorable in the week we spent together and I have enjoyed watching her grow into an amazing young adult through social media. When I reached out to Morgan to give me some feedback about her experience with Bystander, here’s what she had to say:

“When I did Bystander in the 8th grade, it was one of the first theatrical performances I was ever apart of.  Now, I’m a junior in college studying to do theatre as a living. This program impacted my first impression of what it’s like to be apart of a piece of art; a piece of art that sends an extremely important message to an audience to carry throughout their lives. Although bullying takes on different forms, especially as you take on college life, it is still nonetheless very real. Bystander has stuck with me through the years to help me stick up for others.”

Bystander gives students the opportunity to come out of their comfort zone. When I wrote the Bystander script, I had been inspired by one of my Language Arts classes in the middle school  I taught in at the time. While there, I taught a lesson on poetry and the students gathered poems online that had been written by victims of bullying. They had to analyze the poems and then memorize them to recite. We put all the poems together into a theatrical production as a final product for the unit. The piece ended up so powerful, they performed for the school in an assembly and the school board at an evening meeting. What struck me what that I didn’t teach a theater class; I was teaching a random bunch of language arts students who had not chosen to be in a performance class. This was a total cross section of students who connected with what they were doing and were able to convincingly and powerfully present their poems to hundreds of students and teachers. It blew me away. When I do Bystander at a school, I ask the counselors to select a range of students – not just the drama kids or the Student Council. Not just the kids who are used to speaking in front of audiences or performing confidently. I want students who are shy, reserved, not the usual performance suspects so that they can have a moment where they step outside their comfort zone to do something for the greater good. Isn’t that what we are asking the bystanders to do in every situation of bullying? Of course they don’t want to get involved; they are scared to. We are asking them to step outside their normal routine and reach beyond their strengths and confidence to make a difference.

Morgan’s comments are inspiring to me because her experience with Bystander made her realize how powerful it can be to perform something for a live audience; how much of an impact it have have on not only the audience, but the performer. The opportunity she had in Bystander shaped her career path and opened her eyes to a strength she didn’t know she had. By being a part of the Bystander cast, students can come to realizations about their school, their classmates, but most importantly, themselves.

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