Written by Stephanie Archambeau
Last Friday, I was given the great opportunity to attend a run-through of the play The Shape of a Girl, taking place this week at Wharton Center, and a Wharton Center production of the MSUFCU Institute for Arts & Creativity. I had heard a lot about the show and how its subject matter was tough but also very important for student audiences, and I went into it with an open mind, thinking I wouldn’t be affected by the show’s message. I was wrong. Halfway through, I had tears running down my face. Everyone was right; this show was very intense, but in a wonderfully revealing kind of way. As I left the show with other members of Wharton Center staff, there was an odd stillness among us.
Earlier today, Paige Hernandez, the actress in this one-woman play, joined MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis, Associate Producer of the Big Ten Network and National Co-Director of Bully Police USA Kevin Epling, and Michigan Autism Alliance member and former MSU basketball player Anthony Ianni to discuss the show and its message on a special segment of Inside MSU Athletics With AD Mark Hollis: Bullying: Spotting It – Stopping It. Epling lost his son Matt ten years ago after he committed suicide due to an after-school hazing ritual, and the Epling family has been active anti-bullying advocates ever since. According to Epling, we as a society must begin tackling the issue of bullying first by empowering students to stand up for themselves and for others. This is one of his main messages to students as he travels across the country and speaks to schools about bullying and how they can help. In the discussion, he also identifies the current bullying culture, addressing the common excuses such as “boys will be boys” and how that somehow makes bullying acceptable and a non-issue. However, it is clear that this is not the case.
So how do parents approach the topic of bullying with their kids? Epling says our best option is to open the door for discussion, which he claims is easier than ever now because of how prevalent bullying is, and allow kids to come forward to talk while parents and adults ask questions and then simply listen. Paige reiterates this when she discussed her first school performance of the play this morning, saying she was “pleasantly surprised” by how brave attendees were in speaking up and talking about bullying. She, along with director Bert Goldstein, various psychologists and other guests, will be conducting after-show discussions for all school audiences, and in Epling’s words, “opening the door”.
I sat down with Kris Koop Ouellette, our Interim Assistant Director for the MSUFCU Institute for Arts and Creativity, to discuss the show and why it needs to be seen by as many students as possible.
In this day and age, bullying is prevalent everywhere, especially with the rise of social media in our daily lives. It is now easier than ever to upload photos, comment anonymously, and pass information along from network to network. Many of these technologies open the door for bullying in a way we’ve never seen before; there are apps that allow people to write virtually anything they want about someone and send it to them while maintaining complete anonymity.
Even if cyber-bullying is not the issue at hand in The Shape of a Girl, the show itself is a testament to any kind of bullying. Audiences are given a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of young teenage girls, and how things can take a very wicked twist when they reach a certain age. As Kris calls it, a power struggle comes into play very early on in the lives of girls. Suddenly image and reputation are at stake and the desire to please your friends outweighs the importance of right and wrong, and being true to yourself. Power becomes the goal; the power to make others do what you want, the power to lead your friends in what kind of group you are, and the power to shun or embarrass those who oppose you or may be weaker. As the character Braidie states in the performance, it sounds more like WWII than middle or high school, but it is a common, harsh reality in “girl world.”
The show is based on the real-life story of Reena Virk, a Canadian high school student who was brutally beaten and murdered by a group of teenagers after months of being bullied. Joan McLeod, the playwright, exposes not only the torture of the victim, but also that of the bystander: Braidie, who in this parallel story thought she and her friends were innocently teasing one girl until she stumbles upon the realization that it has gone too far. Bullying is something we have all experienc
What is so special about the performance is that audiences can see what bullying looks like. As someone who has been exposed to that and who conquered it, I find it to be a vital part of our anti-bullying education today. Hopefully, this performance will show young audiences and families that there are options, whether you are a victim or a bystander, and that most importantly, you are not alone.
You can check out the study guide for this performance online at http://whartoncenterassets.com/wcpa/pdfs/1314/The-Shape-of-a-Girl-Study-Guide.pdf
The public performance for The Shape of a Girl takes place on Friday, November 15 at 8 pm. http://www.whartoncenter.com/events/detail/the-shape-of-a-girl
Remaining school show performances are Thursday at 9:45 am and 12:30 pm, and again Friday morning at 9:45 am.
Stephanie Archambeau is a sophomore Communication major with a minor in Arts and Cultural Management at Michigan State University, as well as a marketing intern at the Wharton Center and President of the Wharton Center Student Marketing Organization. An Okemos native, she has been attending performances at the Wharton Center for years. In her spare time, she loves to watch movies, bake, and spend time with family and friends.