Davidson College invites the public to IRL: In Real Life, a play by R.N. Sandberg that explores the progression and consequences of cyberbullying among a group of four high school students, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m., and Feb. 28, at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., in the Rupert T. Barber Theatre, Cunningham Theatre Center. All tickets are $5.
Immediately following the play, students from the class "Community Based Theatre for Social Justice: Bullying Prevention Troupe" will host a forum to provide students and families an opportunity to investigate strategies for dealing with cyberbullying in their own lives. The course is team-taught by Professor and Chair of Theatre Sharon Green and Adjunct Lecturer in Education Tanya Chartier.
First commissioned by George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., IRL centers on four high school friends as they learn to negotiate friendship, jealousy and the double-edged sword of modern connectivity. Directed by Green, IRL's cast includes Rachel Wiltshire '16, Brian Wiora '17, Noah Driver '16 and Elizabeth Hunter '17.
The cast of IRL and the students of "Community Based Theatre" also will tour the production to local middle and high schools during the college's spring break. The tour locations include North Mecklenburg High School, Bailey Middle School, Hough High School and Alexander Middle School.
Green first discovered IRL in 2012 after the journal American Theatre commissioned her to write an article on theatres across the United States that focus on the issue of bullying. "As soon as I read IRL something clicked for me and I thought, ‘We could do that at Davidson,'" said Green. "I thought our student actors could do well with the characters and they would be challenged by playing those roles."
Green then conceived the idea to combine the production of IRL with her "Community-Based Theatre for Social Justice" class and perform the production in local middle and high schools. She received funding for the project primarily through an Innovation Grant, which promotes innovative pedagogy and creative teaching methods in the curriculum, and also through a Center for Civic Engagement Curriculum Development Grant, which encourages faculty to include community-based learning techniques in their courses.
Green stressed the importance of starting discussions on cyberbullying within middle school and high school communities. "Bullying has been around since I was in middle school," Green explained. "The fact of one child aggressively perpetrating something painful on another child hasn't gone away. The form that it takes has simply changed."
She added, "People bully through whatever means they communicate, and more young people communicate electronically now than they did 20 or 25 years ago."
Green said that one of the primary strengths of IRL lies in its depiction of the complex and changing roles people play in cyberbullying. "IRL demonstrates how easily one person can go from being the target to being the perpetrator him or herself," she said.
"My hope is that we will validate the emotional complexity of the experience of getting embroiled in these kinds of social situations," Green added.
Green also expressed her hope that local students who see IRL will learn how to properly approach cyberbullying situations. "Our hope is that, throughout the performances, the students will think a bit more about the potential consequences of thoughtless behavior on social media," she said. "We also want to give the students suggestions about what they could do in these situations and to familiarize them with resources in their schools and in their communities if there is a problem."
In the post-show forums, Green's students in "Community Based Theatre for Social Justice" will inform local students of the anti-bullying resources present in their schools and communities. The forums also will include a short audience-based "replay" of a scene from IRL in which students make suggestions on how characters who observe acts of cyberbullying should behave.
"This helps demonstrate that the bystander is an agent of change," Green explained. "Research in this field reveals that it is more probable and has a higher likelihood of stopping bullying behavior if you can change the behavior of the bystander."
The play is suitable for all young students and their families. For more information call 704-894-2930.