Bullying: Fighting back, from the stage

Los Angeles-area teenagers are taking the crusade against bullying to the stage. Their play, an adaptation of the 17th century Spanish classic “Life is a Dream” (“La Vida es Sueño”) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, takes the action into a modern high school setting and uses students’ experiences with bullying to explore how it affects kids.

For the past 21 years, youth in the Cal Arts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) / Plaza de la Raza Theater program have worked with guest playwrights on original pieces of theater that tackle current events. In years past, CAP/Plaza has taken on immigration, war and other subjects, said CalArts Community Arts Partnership director Glenna Avila.

This school year, with the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi in the news and none other than President Obama speaking out on kids and aggression, the program decided to tackle bullying.


Guest playwright Sarah Louise Wilson led the 47 students, who range in age from 11 to 18, in a series of writing exercises about bullying. She asked whether they’d been bullied, and whether they’d bullied other people. Everyone had a story to write, Wilson said -- and she took those stories and incorporated them into the adaptation. When the curtain rises, the hero of the play is being picked on by other kids. He becomes popular and starts bullying others, and is eventually humbled himself.

Walking around the theater on opening night, Wilson said, “the thing I noticed was, everyone was talking about their high school experiences and how hard it is to be in high school.” She said she was going to try to be kinder to her high school students. “What really causes healing is dialogue,” she added.

UCLA psychologist Jaana Juvonen said she was not aware of any research proving this an effective approach to combat bullying. But, she emailed, “I think this is potentially a very engaging way a) to increase awareness about bullying in general; b) to provide youth with new insights about the multiple roles that are involved in bullying (bystanders, assistants to bullies, victims, etc.) and specifically about the plight of victims; and c) most of all, to start in-depth dialogue about bullying and how youth can feel part of solving the problem.”

Readers in Los Angeles who are interested in seeing “Life is a Dream” can view the performance at Plaza de la Raza’s Margo Albert Theater (323-223-2475) on May 13 and 14, and at the REDCAT Theater (213-237-2800) on May 27th and 28th.


Booster shots posts on a recent study linking bullying and family violence and on Obama’s anti-bullying conference.