Baiting The Bully
Nick is a high school senior who is deeply committed to acting. First performing at the age of seven, he discovered a love of being on stage early on. He enjoys the energy he gets from the audience, and also enjoys being able to step out of his own life for awhile, and into the mind of a character. He is serious about live theater, and has been accepted to his first choice for college, a university that has a program specializing in musical theater. Acting is what he hopes to do with his life.
By Nick’s own admission, drama takes precedence over everything else in school, including his grades and his social life. He works outside of school to help to support his family, and this work also takes up considerable time:
I don’t have great grades. I actually have—my average is like a B, B—. Usually my homework gets done the period before it’s due. Well, for a while my schedule is that school gets out and I go to drama and I’m either at drama until nine or get out of drama and go to work. For a while I was taking voice lessons, and every Tuesday, I sing with a jazz group. I have a very filled schedule so I didn’t really have much time. But sometimes on the weekend I have time to do homework. It’s not a good balance because right now I basically support myself, I have to work as much as I can… A lot of my social life happens in drama. We’ll go to a rehearsal and we have an hour break during rehearsal to go and get food and come back, and that is when I hang out with my friends. Or, like, on weekends. A lot of my friends-basically I see them when I’m doing whatever activity I met them in. But we don’t go out much.
When asked if he feels as though he’s giving up anything to be so committed to drama, Nick says no. He acknowledges that to some, it may seem that he doesn’t have much of a social life, but he is happy with his choices and wouldn’t change things.
As Nick describes it, there are a few different reasons people in his school are attracted to theater. For some, it offers an opportunity to build confi dence. Just as he appreciates the chance to be someone else for a while, he recognizes that others are able to face things “in character” that they might not be able to face otherwise. He describes some students in the drama club as nonconformists who have found a place where they’re comfortable with being different. He also describes some in his group who are “annoyed by stereotypes” and who are leading a “campaign for the acceptance of anyone.”
When Nick first started performing, he did it because “it was fun and it was the cool thing to do.” At his high school now, however, it is defi nitely not the cool thing to do, and the students who do drama are one of a few groups who are regular targets for bullying:
I’ll be walking down the hall and I’ll pass a group of football players and even if they are not sports players, someone who does not like theater—you walk by and about when you are ten feet away they will say under their breath, ‘Faggot.’ But they will say it so that you almost can’t understand it so if you were to say, ‘What did you say?’ they are like, ‘I didn’t say anything.’
So a lot of it is that. With the girls they either—despite what they look like—there is this area in our school we call ‘the orange lockers,’ because all the lockers are orange, but popular kids line up on either side of the hall and if a girl from the drama club walks through, they will yell stuff at her, like how fat they are, even if they are really skinny. I know there is one girl on our drama club who ended up becoming bulimic because of it, for awhile.
During his junior year, Nick faced a particularly tricky situation when he was cast as one of the stepsisters in a production of Cinderella. As he describes it, he had no idea this role was a possibility when he auditioned, and he and a male friend were surprised when they discovered they were both going to be playing female roles. Neither Nick nor his friend were upset by the casting, but instead thought it might be fun: “it was our goal to make the audience have a really good laugh.”
However, once word spread that two male performers were going to be acting in female roles, some students refused to go to the show. Nick explains:
My math teacher had a poster for it in his room. And right at the end of the class, he said, ‘Hey, everyone is coming to this right?’ And they are like, ‘What is it about?’ And I said, ‘It’s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. And they are like ‘What are you?’ And I said that ‘I am the stepsister.’ And they’re like ‘I’m not coming to see it,’ and I’m like ‘Why?’ ‘I don’t want to see two guys in drag.’
Nick had several options at this point. He could have gotten angry and argued with his classmate. He could have walked away and avoided the situation. He could have tried to explain that the casting of men in female roles is not unusual and is sometimes used as an attempt to bring more humor into a production. He decided to tackle the situation with sarcasm, and potentially embarrass his classmate:
Being the facetious person I am, I said ‘Why? Are you afraid you are going to get attracted to us?’ He said ‘No!’ and I just tried to brush it off. Maybe it is the wrong way to go about it but I try to like fi ght fi re with fire. If someone is going to be rude to me, I am just going to kind of give it back to them in a facetious or sarcastic way.
Knowing what we do about bullying and social politics in this school setting, what do you think about Nick’s response to this student?