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The Anti-Bullying Campaign

A post-production journal entry by Lauren Noble

(From left) Piper, Phoebe and Paige in Season 8 of Charmed.

As a teenager in the early 2000s I was completely besotted by a fantasy television series about three sisters who had amazing abilities that they used to protect the innocents of San Francisco. The show continued well into my high school career and provided me with my incentive to finish studying for my Matric Finals. You see, two full modules of revision meant one episode of Charmed as a reward for my hard work. A show like Charmed provided me with a solid foundation for the way I would begin to perceive the world around me though, of course, I did not realise it back then. The fact that there were three unique, outspoken female protagonists on my television screen every Tuesday night in a series that lasted eight seasons and almost ten years was groundbreaking for television way back when. Piper, Phoebe and Paige (who replaced their older sister Prue after the actress left the series) were the voices for the voiceless, using their abilities to stand up for those who could not do so themselves. They went through a variety of life lessons and essentially grew up on screen while I did in reality. It was in an episode devoted to discovering that Phoebe has a new power that I learned a word that would later make so much sense to me... the word was 'empath'. In Charmed an empath was a witch who had the ability to both feel heightened emotions of those around them whilst simultaneously channeling those emotions into energy used for both defense and offense. Many years down the line, after university and my first job, I remembered Charmed and bought the box set online. Watching Phoebe grapple with her new power I realised that I was an empath, someone intrinsically connected to the feeling, energy, vibes and emotions within a room and within other people... though sadly I couldn't use this to send my enemies flying across the room as Phoebe could. However, I was able to use it to become a better performer, director and teacher... three aspects of my current career that require a little more intuition than others.

When the Heads of Year asked me if I'd get some of my dramallamas together to do a short skit for assembly as part of the Anti-Bullying Campaign they were running in two weeks I wasn't completely sold on the idea straight away. I was in the midst of rehearsals for our talent show at school and was exhausted by the prospect of doing anything else but the response I got from my Year 10 Drama class about what we needed to put on stage was something else! An hour later, two students had managed to get other students from the younger year groups to answer the question: "if you could say one thing to your bully, and know that you'd stay safe after doing so, what would you say to them?" I read through the answers, astounded at their willingness to devote their own time to getting others' opinions but also extremely saddened by the words that lay on those torn up slips of paper. It became abundantly clear that there was a need for more empaths (or at least a bit more empathy) on the corridors... because if I was wounded by merely reading the words on paper, I can only imagine what the children writing them must be feeling.

The creative process began with a skeletal structure based on a series of skits presented to me by one of my GCSE students. From this I started a variety of convoluted conversations with students from Key Stage 3 all the way through to Key Stage 5 and engaged fully with their measured responses to the many double-edged questions we posed. It was an overwhelming experience discussing ideas for pieces with students who admitted not only to being bullied but to being bullies themselves at times. I began to understand that bullying had evolved into a many-headed beast, not unlike something the Charmed sisters would have faced in the planes of the Underworld. I was last at school in 2006 and bullying had a very different face back then. It was no longer black and white... the grey areas were allowing bullies to find seemingly valid excuses for their actions while the victims felt as though there was no real solution for their situation. We wrote down as many different perspectives as possible ensuring that we captured a plethora of varied, sometimes even opposing, views to the issue facing this new generation of students.

The script came together within four days. Every new theme was introduced using a Linkin Park song and tableaux on stage. We then used a variety of devices to capture the audience's attention, hold their interest and question their understanding. We wanted to consistently pose questions that challenge the audience's sensibilities. And we tried really hard to stay away from cliches about victims and bullies.

I had known for some time that I wanted to use the music of Linkin Park for something that paid homage to just how many of my generation had used their haunting lyrics to escape feelings of anger or sadness. And then, of course, I wanted to honour the life of Chester Bennington whose songs now take on a renewed sense of anguish and sorrow because of his suicide in July last year. I started with songs I knew well so Numb and Breaking the Habit were at the top of my list. Pulling off the lyrics and listening to the songs on repeat sparked a series of still images in my mind and suddenly it all clicked into place: we would use snippets from four Linkin Park songs to show snapshots of what bullying looks like now. To represent the many-headed beast. The lyrics matched up perfectly to the content we wished to present on stage: Numb for the everyday bullying that happens as a series of microaggressions during school; Breaking the Habit for cyber-bullying and the threat of violence; Crawling for the fact that even the most vigilant teachers and parents can sometimes miss a cry for help; Heavy for the bully's perspective because we need to understand the cause rather than always trying to treat the symptom.

"If they say: who cares if one more light goes out? / In a sky of a million stars, it flickers flickers / Who cares when someone's time runs out? / If a moment is all we are, we're quicker quicker / Who cares if one more light goes out? / Well I do / Well I do" ~ One More Light, Linkin Park

It was during my homework task of matching up songs to the scenes we wanted to represent on stage when something quite unexpected took place. I had just finalized our song selection for the cyber-bullying scene and hadn't pressed pause in time when YouTube automatically switched over and continued with Linkin Park songs. I was presented with Chester Bennington posing a direct question to his audience: "who cares if one more light goes out?" I literally stopped everything I was doing and allowed the music to wash over me. It was hauntingly beautiful and so overwhelmingly sad because it was like he was singing the words of the song to himself. My mind was playing a game of "join the dots" when I realised that we could easily pose this question to our audience after saying out aloud, on a public platform, the words those brave students had written directly to their bullies. The result on stage was a moment that caused a silence that was only punctuated by quiet sniffles and many uncomfortable shifts in seats: we had touched a nerve.

Just a few stills showing the variety of situations, circumstances and snapshots of what bullying looks like. It is a many-headed beast that teachers and parents alike may battle to understand because of how far society has developed along the lines of technology and the abuse thereof. There is always someone listening... but are you an upstander... or a bystander?

It was those torn slips of paper from the start of our process that provided us with a full-circle moment in our final performance on stage. Our aim was never to change the world... but if we had the chance to change the world of one or two people sitting in our audience... well, then we'd done something against the seemingly worsening tide of bullying. If a bully takes a moment to stop themselves from bullying then we've made a difference. If a bully takes a moment after the act of bullying to reflect on their actions and feel guilty, we've made a difference. If a victim realizes that they are not alone and there are strong voices united in support of them in what sometimes feels like a ceaseless issue, then we've made a difference. And if a victim understands that someone out there does care if another light, their light, goes out, then we've made a difference. And perhaps those little differences will add up to make all the difference in the world...


© Lauren Noble for Collab Company via 'Idiosyncrasies and Other Tendencies' | 2018


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