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West Jordan Journal

Anti-Bullying Play to be Featured on National TV

May 05, 2016 04:45PM ● By Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

West Jordan - Sunset Ridge Middle School’s website and banners declare that it’s one of the U.S. Department of Education’s “National Schools to Watch.” The school is fulfilling that title quite literally as its anti-bullying play “Not Afraid” will be aired on national TV later this year. 

“I’ve always believed that theater is an educational tool that teaches us about life, and evokes passionate thinking,” Lanny Sorenson, theater teacher and director of the play, said. “It’s therapeutic by nature and, if used right, can inspire us to achieve.” 

Sorenson has been writing and directing an anti-bullying play at Sunset Ridge since he transferred there in 2007. Each year, he asks for anonymous student descriptions of experiences with bullying as a bully, someone who was bullied or a bystander to bullying. Then, he compiles the personal stories into a script that theater students present to the school. 

“Students out in the audience see what’s going on on stage, and they say, ‘That’s my story. They are acting out my story,’” Sorenson said. “It’s kids teaching kids using their own stories, and it’s powerful.” 

Independent film maker Frank Feldman was looking to make a documentary for PBS about anti-bullying art programs when he found a news story about a Disney Channel program that featured Sunset Ridge Middle School’s focus on anti-bullying. The page had a sidebar about the anti-bullying play, so he contacted the school about featuring them, Sorenson said.

When Feldman and his crew filmed the play on March 8, Kat McAllister, actress, said she was so excited. 

“I wasn’t nervous because I want more adults and kids to see this and realize what’s going on with bullying so they can stop it and recover,” she said. “I know it will help them to feel a lot of emotions and know how to change.” 

Kat, 14, said she used to be bullied in elementary school and identified with the characters in the show who had recovered from bullying. She said in some way or another every audience member should be able to relate to the show. 

This was the first year a group of student writers helped Sorenson write the script. Sorenson got feedback from students that the play wasn’t hopeful enough in previous years, Sorenson said. Students also didn’t want the play to be as symbolic, Savanah Larsen, student writer, said. 

A group of about five student writers and Sorenson weaved a story together about Yumiko, a teenage girl who self-harmed her way into a coma. The play occasionally shows flashbacks to Yumiko’s childhood, where she began to be bullied by one of her friends. 

Kristy Mo, student audience member, said the flashbacks were the best part of the play. 

“There was so much empathy going on at that part,” she said. “People don’t realize how bullying can affect you for a lifetime.” 

Savanah, 14, said the school hallways were different after the performance. 

“Our school’s always hit bullying really hard, but that’s why bullying has become somewhat of a joke here. A kid will tease his friend and another member of the group will say in a joking way, ‘I’m going to tell the counseling center on you because that’s bullying,’” Savanah said. “Now, it seems like they have come to understand it more from the play and it’s less of a joke. They’ve realized that if they’ve been a part of bullying — they need to change.” 

Madilyn Page, local singer and songwriter from “The Voice,” sang one of her songs during the March 9 performance, and kids went “gaga” for her, Sorenson said. It helped them to know that Page could relate to bullying.

After the success of Sunset Ridge’s play, schools have asked Sorenson to borrow his scripts. 

“I tell them ‘I could let you, but if you want it to be effective, your student body needs to write it. It needs to be their stories,’” he said. “That’s the only way that it will really sink into them when they watch it.”

Any school’s social issue can be addressed through the arts and through theater, whether it be gang violence, discrimination or anything else, Sorenson said. 

“You just have to take a look around your school and see what the need is there,” he said. “Then let the kids take over. It’s not adults telling kids what to do. It’s kids telling kids, and that makes a world of difference.”