Words That Hurt -- and Heal

During a break in a rehearsal at The Hill School,
During a break in a rehearsal at The Hill School, "Normal" director Tom Sweitzer talks with the cast, consisting of middle and high school students. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tully Satre, 17, says he knows what it's like to be bullied. He knows how it feels to be called names and ostracized.

"I'm gay and I go to a Catholic school. You get the picture there," said the senior at Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg.

But through his involvement in "Normal," a play about bullying and the teenage experience, he has come to understand that he's a bully, too.

"What's so intense about this process is that we realize we've all been bullies, that some of the things we've said or done could have hurt other people. It's been very awakening," said Satre, one in a cast of 26 students from Loudoun and Fauquier county schools.

The actors in the 50-minute play, who are 12 to 18 years old, are also its authors. "Normal" is a series of vignettes based on the students' writings, using humor and real-life experiences to explore bullying and such issues as fitting in, having enough friends and the downside of being smart.

In one vignette, a student with a stutter asks for directions to the nurse's office and is teased by her peers. Eventually, another student helps her.

In another scene, Satre peruses MySpace, the online social networking tool, and laments that he has "3,528 MySpace friends but no real friends."

"It's so real because we are those kids," Satre said. "We're telling our peers what it feels like, what we go through and how it affects people. I think people are really going to listen."

The play, which will be performed next month at several sites in Loudoun, is being directed by the Creative Youth Theater Foundation, a nonprofit theater group in Middleburg. The show is underwritten by the Loudoun Youth Initiative, a county agency created in 2004 with support from the Board of Supervisors to address teenagers' needs.

The idea for the show came about in 2004 after the agency surveyed more than 500 students and found that a majority had experienced bullying. The Loudoun Youth Initiative approached the theater foundation about creating a play for teenagers on the topic, said Tom Sweitzer, founder of the theater group and one of the play's directors.

Sweitzer, who has a degree in musical theater from Shenandoah University, was drawn to the concept.

"Teenagers don't want a show that looks like an after-school special," he said. "This kind of thing, where every word and note comes out of the child, is completely original. It's real and it has integrity and it seems honest."

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