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The Stage is Set to Combat Bullies

Article by Karlisha Hurley

Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements have set the stage for change. Now’s the time for actors to act.
Actors have the opportunity to be the leaders of change. As an actor you can draw on your experiences and choose roles that empower you and in exchange, you can help empower others. Those who select roles and films that have equality and fairness can show the next generation that the imbalance between gender and racism is not normal and it’s fair enough to want change.
In the film and television industry, bullying is rampant. It’s one of the jewels that draws audiences to reality TV shows like The Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise; stand-up comedians reflect it upon themselves to show their vulnerability and embrace audiences; it’s part of the arguments used to grab attention in sitcoms; and it is a recipe for success in some of our favorite TV series like The Handmaid’s Tale, Mindhunter, Breaking Bad, and many more.
It’s also rampant within our schools and has led to deadly consequences. The Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 when Harris and Klebold shot dead 13 people and injured 23 others before shooting themselves was partly attributed to school bullying. According to research by university lecturer Millicent Kelly — who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice — roughly 160,000 students don’t attend school each day as a result of bullying and 1 in 20 students drop-out of school due to being bullied.
But what of the victims of bullying who have grown up in an era where Cinderella, Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, even Finding Nemo were all about empowering men and maidens in distress who needed rescuing.
Victims of bullying are not being rescued. Film and television has a huge impact on our lives and so long as the next generation continues to be nurtured on such fantasies showing men as strong and powerful and women as weak and vulnerable, then attempts to change behavior and reduce bullying in society and in our schools will be negated. Victims of bullying will not be empowered.
Some might say acting is not the right industry if you don’t want to be bullied, particularly in light of the sexual assault and abuse by some powerful people in the entertainment industry highlighted by the Time’s Up and Me Too movements which are encouraging victims to speak out against sexual assault and abuse.
But it is the right industry if you want to create change.
As an actor, you can make a difference. You can influence what generations see as normal; you can empower yourself to stand up, to be less vulnerable and to reject the norm to self-sabotage and do anything for the approval of your peers.
As an actor, you can also empower yourself by learning to manage your fears; not to be daunted by interviews; not to be bullied by those with more power; not to be afraid of learning hundreds of pages of lines of a script then standing up in front of others and delivering those exact words as if they were your own. As actors, we make ourselves vulnerable; we wear our emotions on our sleeves; we ask millions of people to judge if they like us; to talk about us; and we let them disempower us if they don’t like us. Sometimes the world celebrates with us; but in a flash that can be gone. Either way, as an actor, you can learn to empower yourself and better manage the situation.
With intense bullying beginning at schools, I believe there should be more opportunities for students to learn the skills that go with acting. Actors should play a role in achieving that.
According to a study by Nick Mavroudis and Pagona Bournelli published in a Journal, ‘Gogent Education’ (2016), drama education can provide students with skills that enables them to confront difficult social problems such as bullying. Their research shows that educational drama can be effective in improving pupils’ interpersonal relations (Joronen, Konu, Rankin, & Astedt-Kurki; 2011), in the reduction of aggression (Graves, Frabutt & Vigliano; 2007), in the cultivation of cooperation and in improving the general climate in the classroom (Catterall, 2007; Mages, 2010), as well as in the development of self-confidence and general awareness of participants (Belliveau, 2007; Rosseau & Moneta, 2008; Santomenna, 2010).
Nick Mavroudis and Pagona Bournelli also say that drama in education facilitates the sharing of experiences and of open discussion. Bullies can explore roles how victims feel and the human pain they are causing; and victims can find ways of resisting and reacting that might be less confrontational. Quoting that of Edminston (2000), they say that by role playing, students can explore and discover themselves and the wider world in a way that protects them from the consequences that would normally follow in the situations they create as role playing can be stopped at any time.
But acting is more than that. Not just as a way to overcome difficulty through role playing in school, but as a way to empower students throughout their life. It should therefore not be seen as a selective subject but as a necessary part of learning. Schools talk about creating a heavier focus on English and Maths, but what about drama? It is a subject that can help every student empower themselves; to better love themselves and stand up to peer pressure, to learn to manage their emotions; to better manoeuvre their way through conflict; to better understand the behaviors of others; to overcome fears; to audition for a job with confidence; and to gain greater awareness of the world around them.
As actors, we have an audience; we can be the leaders of change. If our education system took acting more seriously, it could help create change too.
The stage is set. Now let’s “be the change you want to see in the world.” (Gandhi).