Spectacle Theatres ‘Special’ written by Paul Swift started as a European project to change bullying and cyber bullying behaviour. We wanted to support young people to share their lived experience, what it is really going on for them and how does it impact. The project was a conversation in many forms, workshops, performance, discussion, conferences. We heard how bullying is an oppressive force impacting on the lives of many young people and adults, be that through the devastating psychological and physical consequences experienced by a victim, as a bystander or by acting as a bully themselves or more commonly in the role of victim – bully.
The ever-growing development of online technologies means young people face a 24-hour intrusion from strangers and unwelcome, unavoidable communications. This experience can easily be hidden from trusted friends or adults, and without a release for their emotions, it can lead to feeling of entrapment, or worse, or feeling the need to engage in damaging coping strategies including self-harm and suicide.
Special give voice to those affected by bullying who may otherwise have no space to do so; to share their experiences and explore ways of overcoming bullying behaviour. We know that drama and theatre can be used as a powerful method to demonstrate the emotional consequences of bullying and to share thoughts and experiences through the safety of fiction. We have taken Special across Europe to formal and non-formal education settings to young people and adults. This three-year conversation gave rise to the following:
Firstly, It has enabled adults to see the young as people and to recognise the challenges they face. Many teachers have responded to ‘Special’, saying it has enabled staff to have a discussion with pupils about issues they otherwise would have struggled to talk about; it opened their eyes to how vulnerable many young people were.
‘I think it was particularly illuminating for staff who don’t always get to see that aspect of our young people’s lives and priorities so thank you. A really valuable experience’.
The fact the play isn’t single issue and takes the audience into a realistically complex fictional situation tested out young people’s real responses, as opposed to the responses they’d had to classroom work on stranger danger, etc. and many teachers were genuinely shocked that young people who had ticked all the expected boxes in previous classroom work, displayed a very high level of vulnerability in response to the play. Teachers also consistently commented on the play’s ability to positively engage all the children (including children who normally don’t), enabling them to empathise, analyse and think critically.
Secondly, the challenges that young people face are difficult to talk about.
Our conversation revealed that young people express that they find it difficult to talk about or be open about behaviours such as sexting or fraping. They recognise the need to talk to someone they trust, yet feel they cannot talk with teachers, parents or youth workers or even their peers, they feel embarrassed. This is putting enormous pressure on young people and increasing the levels of stress and often negative impacts of this upon themselves. We find more and more young people asking for support, to have more information about local support services and crisis lines. They are asking for early intervention-not for the levels of stress to build. They are asking for staff and pupils to undertake Mental Health First Aid training. This conversation is continuing, yet it is clear that speaking about bullying behaviour in a meaningful way we have to talk about everything.
There will be an exclusive public performance of Special on Wednesday 25th October.
by Paul Swift, presented by Spectacle
25 October, 7pm
Cardiff and Vale College, Dumballs Road Cardiff
Tickets are free from Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/special-by-paul-swift-tickets-38501455891
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