Using Theatre to teach kids about bullying and managing conflict

Getting middle school-age kids’ attention for a presentation on bullying is no easy task. But the play Above Between Below is keeping middle schoolers on the edge of their seats. Inspiring kids to make healthy choices is the goal of this collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and Seattle Children’s Theatre. “Educational Theatre is one way of opening up conversations about mental health and wellness that resonates with young people,” says Victoria García, manager of Community Health for Kaiser Permanente Washington.

This academic year, Washington students in qualifying schools will see plays on relevant health topics right in their schools, free of charge to them and their schools. Above Between Below, the play that debuted last year and reached more than 18,000 students, follows 4 middle school friends who, at different times, are each the bully and the bullied. Audiences have been to known to shout “Oh, no you didn’t!” when one of the characters posts an embarrassing video of another on social media.

“The kids are riveted,” says Scott Koh, arts-based learning program manager at Seattle Children’s Theatre. “For many of them, this is the first time they’ve seen a play. And to see a story that is so relevant to their lives — cast members have witnessed students weeping during the performance.” The play is followed by a discussion on bullying, facilitated by the actors. In one instance, when viewers were asked what they would do now if they saw bullying, a 6th grader said, “It wouldn’t be easy for me, but I would try to do something.”

The fully booked 2018-2019 statewide tour of Above Between Below will visit more than 30 school locations, including Marysville, Renton, Federal Way, Tacoma, Central Valley, and Yakima.

High school play coming soon

Next up for this spring is Ghosted, a play to help high school students build awareness and reduce stigma around depression. Script development for these productions also includes input and previews with students and teachers.

Booking for the new show currently includes Highline, Centralia, and Seattle, to name a few.

Younger students learn through roleplay

The Educational Theatre Program also offers S.T.A.R. workshops (Stop, Think, Act, Reflect) for 3rd to 5th graders on practicing ways to reduce and resolve conflict. Two teaching artists role-play conflict scenarios based on suggestions from the students, then brainstorm plans of how to calm the situation. As the kids work through these familiar conflicts, they gain skills around naming their feelings, staying calm, and communicating effectively.

As one 4th grader who participated in S.T.A.R. puts it, “Something happens to someone and they take it out on someone else. Emotions take over. You get really revved up and you forget what you’re doing. Take a little break from each other then come back. Have a dance battle. Talk about it and come up with a solution.”

S.T.A.R. is making its way to a number of schools in Seattle, as well as Central Kitsap, Kent, Kenmore, and others. There are still dates available for booking Ghosted and the S.T.A.R. workshop. To see if your child’s school qualifies for the program, contact Seattle Children’s Theatre:
Scott Koh, arts-based learning program manager, at scottk@sct.org or 206-443-0807, Ext. 1082, or Meredith Berlin, arts-based learning program assistant, at meredithb@sct.org or 206443-0807, Ext. 1083.

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