SARATOGA SPRINGS – Bullying is one of the most distressing, yet common, issues that today’s children and teens face in schools all over the country, and Saratoga Springs is no exception. The Saratoga Children’s Theater (SCT) however, is doing something to change that in time for October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month. With a cast of bright and energetic child actors, SCT is putting on an anti-bullying tour at local schools using the powerful musical, “The New Kid.”
“The New Kid” takes place in a typical middle school, P.S. 32, and follows the story of Zack, a new student. Zack must navigate the social scene of his new school, which is divided into several cliques, such as “The Gangstas,” “The Brainiacs,” and “The Mod Squad.” Eager to be accepted into one of the “popular crowds,” Zack finds himself giving in to peer pressure, and ends up in situations that he doesn’t feel are right. In the end, lessons are learned that inspire the entire school to change.
The musical features catchy songs, trendy dances and noteworthy themes that show how significant, and detrimental, bullying, teasing and hazing are to kids.
“I like shows that relate to kid’s own lives, and this is an important issue that has been talked about quite a bit in the last ten years. And in the age of social media, it has become an even bigger issue,” said David Girard, SCT’s director of “The New Kid.” “I didn’t have to walk the kids through the process; they got it, how important the issue of bullying is. We’re not doing a kid’s show that is saccharine and just for fun; this is something kids deal with daily. This show hits it head on, in a way that is comedic and palatable.”
Currently, SCT is finishing up rehearsals for “The New Kid” and getting ready for their first school performance at Schuylerville Elementary School on October 9. After that, they’re taking their show to Corinth Middle School and St. Clements Elementary School, with more tours being scheduled.
The cast of “The New Kid” is comprised of students in middle school and high school, each of whom has had their own experiences with bullying. Many members of the cast mention how they wish a program like this came into their school, as well as how great it feels to be able to help students like themselves.
“Some kids might see the play and think ‘Wow, that’s terrible,’ and not wish that on others. Bullies might see it, see themselves in the play’s bullies, and want to change,” said Josh Tracy, an actor in “The New Kid.”
High school junior and cast member Egan Mills said, “Raising awareness about the problem of bullying in schools is so important. I think that play has a bigger effect because it’s coming from kids. Adults putting on the show just wouldn’t be as relatable.”
Mills also noted that after the school performances, students have the opportunity to discuss the play with the actors while they are still in character. This opens up a channel of communication directly with the students, allowing them to share their own perspective and how they perceived the play.
“It’s a wonderful way to build compassion and empathy in children in a world that seems to be working against that,” continued Girard. “With social media and Facebook, little by little we’re building a narcissistic society. The play encourages kids to be empathetic and to sympathize for the kid who is maybe a little socially awkward, doesn’t make friends easily or is incredibly shy. The message is that it’s okay to be nerdy or really smart. It’s okay to think it’s not cool to bully somebody.”
One thing that the show doesn’t hit head on, because it takes place in a school, is the issue of cyberbullying, which has become increasingly problematic and prominent in the last several years. Girard mentioned how he would be interested in doing a show down the road that addresses cyberbullying directly.
“The New Kid” is a timely example of how young adults are making a difference locally. For the young actors, this is their way of giving back to the community and helping their peers overcome the bullying epidemic.
For more information about “The New Kid” and The Saratoga Children’s Theater, visit saratogachildrenstheatre.org. For more information about bullying prevention, visit pacer.org/bullying/.