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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 09 2013

Putting the spotlight on bullying

FARGO – If the cast of “Don’t Look At Me” had their way, everyone would take a look at their play.

And, hopefully, think about what they say and do to others, too.

About 45 Discovery Middle School students have taken on the topic of bullying in the half-hour production, a series of vignettes about how needlessly and thoughtlessly cruel people can be to each other.

From cruel words spoken in the dark:

“Can you believe she did that?”

“What a dork!”

“I would never wear clothes like that!”

“What country did he come from?”

“What a loser!

“I bet we can make him cry today.”

To scenes about cyberbullying, being pressured to conform, and eventually, learning how to accept others and shrug off taunts.

Bill Lucas, who teaches reading at Discovery, said he sought a play for sixth-graders that could have a cast of anywhere from five or six, to 50 or 60.

When he couldn’t find one, he wrote one himself over about four days, refining the script with input from the students.

“I like that. You could change it. He took ideas from us,” cast member Vanessa Hellner-Born said.

“Almost every scene, there’s something the kids have added. I’ve learned the kids know a heck of a lot more” about the problem, Lucas said.

He also borrowed the play’s name from a secretary, who said “Don’t look at me!” when she was asked for a good title.

The line provides a powerful opening to the play, as the cast filters through the blacked-out theater’s aisles with flashlights, speaking and yelling the phrase.

Lucas said he wanted to capture “what it’s like when people treat you poorly.”

Principal Linda Davis said she thinks the cast gets its message across.

“They are able to be more authentic,” she said. “I think they hit the nail on the head.”

About 300 sixth-graders made up Wednesday’s matinee audience.

“I think it opened my eyes a lot” to the problem of bullying, Hellner-Born said.

“We’re hoping it will open eyes even more,” added Haidyn Stahl, who played a leader of the “mean girls” in a skit.

Stahl said she hopes the play gets her fellow students thinking about making “school someplace they want to go, and not be picked on or hurt.”

The play will be presented to the public free of charge at 7 tonight in the Discovery Middle School theater, 1717 40th Ave. S.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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