Above: the cast of Reese Thompson's play KIDS PLAY - Erin Margaret Pettigrew, Matthew Bovee, and Joy Donze; styling by Anthony Hagan, hair and make-up by Ta Ming Chen; photographed by Jan Klier
Recently, I received an e-mail from Reese Thompson. Reese and I worked together back in the day at Tower Records, and while we seldom see one another, we have stayed in contact thru the passing years.
I could see from the heading of his e-mail - "Important Life Announcement" - that this was not just a friendly, keeping-in-touch message. Fortunately, it contained very good news: Reese's play, entitled KIDS PLAY, is to be presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this Summer. Edinburgh Fringe is the largest and one of the most prestigious arts festivals in the world: last year the Festival spanned 25 days and featured 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues. I expect this year's Festival will carry on in the same vein.
Reese and I, and hundreds of thousands of people world-wide, have something in common: we were cruelly bullied as children. In his e-mail, Reese mentioned the specific times in his daily school routine when things were most treacherous: getting to and from school, lunch-hour, and the playground. Although I am many years older than Reese, I experienced the exact same pattern in my youth. Nothing has changed...in fact, I would say things have gotten worse.
"For certain kids, the world reveals itself as a dangerous place early on." Truer words have never been spoken. If you are 'different', you become - at a very young age - fair game for those who fit accepted norms, both at school and in the community.
The burgeoning suicide rate among very young people should be setting off all kinds of alarms, but instead it seems to have become just another statistic: suicide is now the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. According to Yale University’s Office of Public Affairs, victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
For those young people who don't fit in, and who lack parental support and understanding, life becomes a quest to find your people: we build our own family and support network over time, and inevitably this replaces blood ties as a source of refuge, understanding, and encouragement.
Reese Thompson's KIDS PLAY evolved over a three-year period from a 10-minute play dealing with shaming, internalized sexism, and bullying on the playground. Since then, by collaborating with different casts and directors, the present a full-length version has taken shape. It now encompasses such themes as childhood friendships, attending Catholic school, and nerve-wracking decisions about coming out. Reese's play is both auto-biographical and universal.
But, lest you think KIDS PLAY is a dark downer of a theatrical experience, it doesn't wallow in despair: in fact, there is singing...and dancing, as in this preliminary video featuring the cast members and choreographed by Benjamin Rowan.
Of course, putting on a production at a festival across the pond costs money, and the KIDS PLAY folks have started a fun-raising effort: you can read more about the play (and the other half of its double bill, Joy Donze's 13 AND NOT PREGNANT), and contribute to the expenses involved here.