This weekend at Olde Walkerville Theatre, the Riverfront Theatre Company will be presenting a series of short plays dealing with the forces of peer pressure, bullying, social anxiety and the stress of everyday life at school and home. The collection of shows is being presented as Under Pressure, a Trio of Once-Acts and features The Redemption of Gertie Greene, by Taryn Temple as well as Box and Hoodie, both by Lindsay Price. The show features more than 50 young actors.
“Under Pressure was selected as the ideal mechanism for our middle-schoolers to have a chance to shine with the high school students in supporting roles,” says Riverfront Executive Director Kristina Garswood. “At the same time, it gives them all a chance to talk through issues relevant to them, and work through them together with some structured dialogue and scenarios. We hope that it will also be a discovery and thinking process for our young audience members as well.”
New student Gertie Greene is a bully in The Redemption. Gossip spreads like wildfire that she attacks kids in the bathroom, knocks down football players, and gets suspended all the time. Even teachers are afraid of her. Everyone’s talking about it so it must be true. But is she really a terrifying monster?
In Box, sometimes we choose the way the world sees us. Black box – indestructible. Jewelry box – plain on the outside, shiny on the inside. Sometimes our box is defined by others – our parents, our friends, our enemies. A box built by others can feel small, confined, impossible.
Hoodie is about middle schoolers who face a tornado of questions every day. What do I wear? What if I wear the wrong thing? What is she wearing? What do I look like? Stop looking at me! It examines image and appearance in the vignette style and poses what may be the most difficult question of all – Do I stay in the clump or do I stand alone?
“We have a whopping 51 Senior students in the cast,” Garswood adds. “There are just under 20 in each of Gertie Greene and Box, and then they all come together in Hoodie. So it’s given us the chance to rotate the speaking roles a lot to allow lots of people to have their say on stage. Our Seniors range from 11-18 years old as a rule, but this year, our oldest students are still 16 and 17. No one’s hitting an 18th birthday till much later in the season.”
Under Pressure runs at Olde Walkerville Theatre on November 23 and 24 at 8:00pm and November 25 at 2:00pm. Tickets start at $10 and will be available at the door.
Here’s our full interview with Kristina:
- Tell me about the idea and purpose of Under Pressure?Under Pressure was selected as the ideal mechanism for our middle-schoolers to have a chance to shine with the high school students in supporting roles. At the same time, it gives them all a chance to talk through issues relevant to them, and work through them together with some structured dialogue and scenarios. We hope that it will also be a discovery and thinking process for our young audience members as well.
- Are these shows meant to be performed together or were they specifically selected and why were they selected?The shows are not designed to go together. We liked the three topics of bullying, social anxiety, and peer pressure, together, and they work very well to have half of the cast in either Box or The Redemption of Gertie Greene, and then bring them all together for Hoodie. The kids have a little more scope for acting with the three plays, even one-acts, than they might otherwise get with a big production with a smaller number of leads. In addition, we’re building on their skills for choral speech and group movement for other upcoming projects, and we were able to start putting those skills in place here.
- Peer pressure, bullying and social anxiety are very real issues with young ones and teens today. How will these three shows help?I think sometimes kids have a hard time articulating what is difficult for them, and an even harder time imagining a resolution for them. They also need to gradually develop the ability to put themselves into someone else’s shoes and expand their perspectives. And especially when it comes to bullying – we really loved the focus in Gertie Greene on the role of the bystander. Kids really have a chance to explore the consequence of keeping silent and not reaching out, or helping to pave the way for someone who is being bullied, or who is misunderstood.Working through plays with an established story line has enabled the kids to start to open up and say, “I’ve had an experience like that.” Or even, “I’ve done that. And I didn’t really think about how it might make my friend feel.” There’s been a lot of discussion. Lots of laughter and conversation about their own experiences and perspectives. We think that’s been valuable. The kids are opening up to each other, and thinking a lot, in different ways, and from different angles, about really relevant issues for them.
Another bit of help we’re hoping for is that $1 from each ticket sold is going directly into the hands of our parent company, The Youth Connection Association, Inc., to help with other work that they’re doing, most likely with the after-school tutoring program they run.
- How involved were the students in the selection and presentation of this one?We had a selection of scripts that we’d prescreened, and we also presented the Theatrefolk website to the kids, and invited discussion. We told them what we were trying to focus on last year, and why we were doing that – we just had a lot of issues coming up last season and we thought we could do more for our kids than “just” a random choice of something age-appropriate that fit the size of our cast. They didn’t quite choose the plays, but they did demonstrate a marked preference, and make suggestions each week through the second half of our year in our suggestion box. They had the opportunity to borrow the sample scripts and give us feedback.In terms of the presentation, with our three student directors this year, I’ve heard an awful lot of collaborative direction. “What do you think about this? Is there any way you’d like to move to communicate this?” I think each of our directors has had their vision, but has been working to ensure that the kids are really bringing their thoughts and ideas to the final product. It’s been mutually respectful and considerate.
- How big is the cast and age range?We have a whopping 51 Senior students in the cast. There are just under twenty in each of Gertie Greene and Box, and then they all come together in Hoodie. So it’s given us the chance to rotate the speaking roles a lot to allow lots of people to have their say on stage. Our Seniors range from 11-18 as a rule, but this year, our oldest students are still 16 and 17. No one’s hitting an 18th birthday till much later in the season.
- I bet each and every one of us can relate to at least one of these stories. As a long-haired rocker who dressed flashy, I was faced with trying to fit in the box and being cast out. Which show can you relate to?I think myself I relate the most to Hoodie, which focuses on Social Anxieties. I remember in grade 8 and 9 feeling so incredibly self-conscious that I could scarcely remember to walk with any normal walking stride in the halls at school. I felt paralysed and convinced that everything about me was just WRONG. I wore the wrong clothes, I had the wrong hair, and none of my peers seemed to share very many interests with me. I just felt like a very stressed fish out of water. I missed a lot of school in grade 8 and 9, feeling so sick every morning that I just couldn’t go in. And at the time, I didn’t really understand that most of my symptoms, which were very real – were all tied in so directly to stress.
- It’s great to see that we’re now in a world where we can openly talk about and watch programs like Under Pressure. When I grew up, peer pressure, bullying and social anxiety were always kept quiet – do you think talking about these issues has helped students cope better?That’s certainly our hope. I know they’re talking with us. I know that they’re saying things like, “It’s weird seeing someone saying this, because it’s how I think, and I thought it was just me.” I’m waiting for more stories to come in about how these stories may help them push through their stressors, or how they might lead our students to reach out to someone else. What I do see, within the safe confines of our group, is kids taking care of one another. We’ve had a rough, rough start to the school year this year around. We have several kids who have lost family members to illness, and one of our students lost a friend at school recently. They aren’t staying home. They’re showing up to rehearsal, and telling their parents that they need to be with their friends. And the rest of the cast is listening and looking out for them. Once in a while, we get someone going through something we’ve missed. And I’m finding that Katina, my executive assistant, and director of Hoodie, has an unparalleled skill for getting the kids to open up with her, and take her comfort and advice, and not pull away or apart. She just has an incredible knack. They all know that she loves them. She has a lot of her own losses and struggles that she went through that she’s not shy of sharing with the kids, and they trust her.
- Have you found the students struggle with the content of the show as you rehearse it?I wouldn’t say I see them struggling. I see lots of lightbulb moments. I see a lot of commiserating, and a lot of identifying with the stories. But it’s been a very, very positive process in rehearsal. We did warn our parents that the kids might get triggered or sobered by some of the topics. We haven’t had any of them reporting any complications that have been troubling the kids. But sometimes we look around and realise that we need to take a breather and clear the air. We looked at the number of funerals that our kids have been to this fall already, and decided that we’re starting our next rehearsal with a sharing circle. Our therapy pup-in-training is going to be there for the first time, and we’re just giving them time to open up and reach out about what’s been hard to get through this fall. So we may see some new things come out in discussion. They know they’re safe talking with this group of peers.
- What’s next for Riverfront?The Juniors are up next on December 8th and 9th at the Downtown Mission with A Christmas Peter Pan, which should be really cute – and is working as a fundraiser and can drive for the Mission as well as benefitting us. In February, our Seniors are back, stretching themselves in a new direction with a mini Shakespeare festival that we’re calling Where There’s a Will. It’s another three one-acts, with some skits and music in the middle. And then in May, we have two weeks of our full-company musical, Mary Poppins.