Nine students lay shot, scattered across the high school campus. Henry Curley (Greg) compresses the stomach of a foreign exchange student in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Dannika Anstead (Kristin) holds a dead girl in her arms. Covered in blood, she tries to scream, but can’t get any sound out. Running to the girl’s bathroom, she’s finally able to release that shriek, which initially irritates fellow student Alyssa Suderman (Becca), who has taken refuge in a bathroom stall.
And for just a split second, Becca gets why Joseph Bunnell (Aaron) has shot so many of his peers.
While most never expected that Aaron would take it this far, Suderman said, “I really wasn’t that surprised. You can only be called mean names so many times before you begin to hate everyone.”
In the short play, I was There, written by Sam Guzman, high school students express what they were doing and feeling during a campus shooting. This play is one of six to be performed by the Yosemite High School Theatre Arts 2 class in the production Bye Bye Bully, Jan. 19-20.
“The show provides different viewpoints on school bullying, which is a very important issue because it’s so easy to bully now,” YHS Theatre Arts teacher Lars Thorson explained. “Today’s teens have grown up with the internet. Texting and online messages are part of their everyday lives. Many of them don’t understand that posting something online, even if it’s meant as a harmless joke, can be hurtful.”
“In the play, I feel like a failure, like I’m a big disappointment to my family, and then I’m bullied all through high school,” shooter Bunnell said. “Nothing really pushes me over the edge. It just keeps building until ...”
“It’s like a dam that finally breaks, with all the water flooding out,” Mia Adelizi (Emily) interjected. Bunnell nodded his head in agreement.
Cale Sweeney (DJ) is part of the reason Aaron snaps. “I’m arrogant, a punk,” Sweeney said. “Whatever I can do or say to make him feel bad and myself feel good, I’m going to do it.”
While Curley witnesses the persistent bullying, he never steps up, and in hindsight says, maybe if he or someone had tried to intercede, it wouldn’t have come to this.
Following the shootings, Aaron, apologizes to his mom for being a freak, a loser, for not being the soccer star, prom king, or straight “A” student. He tells his classmates he’s sorry that they made it their mission to ensure he never fit in, for always making him feel separate and invisible, but now they will forever remember his name.
While this is one of the more serious plays, there are others less somber with humorous scenes.
“The show begins with Bullies Anonymous,” Thorson said. “It’s a ripoff of 12 step programs, and the audience learns about three bullies who no longer harass others. The group is led by a well-meaning teacher who has her own amusing issues. Each bully has unique quirks, and we can laugh as we watch these foolish insecure people struggle in their attempt to not bully others. When a young math nerd wanders into their meeting, their collective resolve is hilariously tested.”
Because Thorson wanted this to be a life lesson for the young actors - one that reinforces the idea that anyone can be a bully and a victim - the students perform in contrasting parts, a bully in one play and a victim in another, which offers a glimpse into each mindset.
“The play where I’m the shooter is pretty intense and scary,” Bunnell said, “but the other play I’m in is silly and shows that bullies are, more often than not, insecure.”
The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) reports that emotional bullying is the most prevalent type of bullying, with pushing, shoving, tripping, or spitting coming in second. Cyberbullying is most common during the high school years. Victims typically have low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, lack of assertiveness, bouts of aggression, difficulty controlling anger and feelings of isolation.
“These plays deal with cyberbullying and its consequences,” Thorson added. “My hope is that people come away from the experience with a deeper understanding of this very real and profoundly serious social issue.”
Performances of Bye Bye Bully are 7 p.m., Jan. 19-20, in the YHS Theatre. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students without ASB cards and $5 for students with ASB cards or children under 14.
Details: (559) 683-4667 ext. 256.