“Out of Bounds,” a play about cyber bullying that was the first step in developing this toolkit. Out of Bounds was developed by The Working Group Theater and Hancher Performing Arts at the University of Iowa, and its goal is to create conversation about bullying.
The goal of the play was to speak to the realities faced by junior and high school students in a way that is entertaining, engaging and accessible, and cuts through cynicism about anti-bullying messages that can be prevalent with young teens. As a young woman who has been a victim of cyber bullying said in an interview, her former friends KNEW what they were supposed to do but they CHOSE not to do it. This represents the fundamental problem schools and students face today: a lack of empathy. We believe this play can help create a sense of empathy for the students that will last beyond the performance, and the accompanying curriculum will serve to deepen this experience and strengthen engagement with the topic.
To create this play, we started by interviewing teachers, counselors, administrators, school resource officers, social workers, parents, and kids about their experiences with bullying. The ideas and stories gathered from these interviews were then woven into a fictional story that becomes the play. Part of the play development involved working “on our feet” taking bits of the script and staging them, improvising on a theme, and then discussing our findings after. This is a subject that affects so many people, including those creating the show, and the stories continue to come out as we keep working.
Throughout the play, we have also included “True Stories”. These are moments when the actors stop the action of the play and speak to the audience directly, telling them a true story about a time in their life when they were affected in some way by bullying. One story is about being bullied, one is about being a bystander, and one is about unknowingly participating in bullying. Our experience has been that students respond positively to these confessional moments. For many who are dealing with bullying, the feeling of isolation is extreme: these stories are an opportunity for them to hear how someone else has dealt with the same issue.
The play has now been performed in more than 18 schools, with more on the way. The HEAR toolkit was developed to accompany the play and be used by schools where the play has been performed, but both the play and the tookit can be used independently.