Sarah's dramatic take on bullying

Jenny Lee speaks to Co Down student Sarah King who is using drama as a means to empower young people to act together to stamp out bullying

ACCORDING to a recent UK-wide survey 45 per cent of young people aged 13-18 have experienced bullying, 26 per cent of those on a daily basis. Overall 83 per cent said bullying had a negative impact on their self-esteem, with 56 per cent saying bullying affected their studies.

There is no denying the impact of bullying as Lee Kane, Regional Anti-Bullying Coordinator with the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) who are coordinating Anti-Bullying Week, recognises. "The research shows that bullying is occurring and that it does have a very serious impact on the lives of children and young people. Bullying can happen anywhere and to anyone, in lots of different ways. It could be in a physical place, such as the playground, the classroom, the lunch room or in the park.

Or, it might take place online or through smart phones, such as on social networking websites, through online games or by text message. "Bullying, no matter how it happens, is always wrong. It is important that we remember the hurt that bullying can cause, and think about what we can do to make it stop."

In this Anti-Bullying Week more than 800 schools and youth groups across the north are exploring our collective role in stamping out bullying. Castlewellan girl Sarah King (19), a Year 14 student at Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch has written and produced a play that will be performed at the school this week which aims to "empower" he fellow pupils to tackle bullying. "I called the play Complicity because collectively I want to stamp bullying out. The play is not just about bullying; it's deals with tolerance, inclusivity and respecting each other, whether physically or in social media," Sarah says.

Sarah developed the drama together with GCSE students after being awarded a grant from the Thomas Devlin Foundation, offered annually in memory of the 15-year-old schoolboy who dreamt of a career in the performing arts before his tragic death in 2005 in an unprovoked knife attack 200 metres from his north Belfast home. "I was privileged to meet Thomas's parent and share their passion for how drama was a very important medium in helping promote anti-bullying," says Sarah who while having no direct experience of bullying is very much aware of knife-crime in her neighbouring town of Newcastle.

Sarah, who is studying A-level music and drama and hopes to have a career in performance art, received funding for her project that enabled her to collaborate with Lisa May, director of Bruiser Theatre Company and has incorporated Bruiser's signature techniques of soundscapes, body percussion and physical theatre into the production. "Through drama we deal with the reasons why people bully and well as the ways they are bullied which are often implicit yet can be equally damaging.

I want to encourage people to talk to someone and not suffer in silence. "We are very fortunate at Assumption that we have an excellent pastoral care and everybody looks after everybody else. If someone has an issue they take it to either a teacher or peer, whoever they feel more comfortable speaking to, and it's dealt with their and then. I know that's not the case everywhere else but we do have a collective responsibility to make sure bullying does not happen." Young people from a number of schools, along with the parents of Thomas Devlin, will be invited on Thursday to view Complicity, which will be performed by a cast of 28 Year 12 students.

The performance will be followed by a workshop led by Regional Anti-Bullying Coordinator Lee Kane. "The theme of Anti-Bullying Week 2014 calls on everyone, of all ages, to think about what role they can play in taking a stand against all forms of bullying behaviour," Lee says. "That could be speaking up if you hear racist, sectarian, disablist or homophobic language being used, reporting abuse you witness on a social network website, or even just making sure your friends know they can talk to you if they are worried about bullying. "Sarah's play sends a very clear message that bullying, in all its forms, is not acceptable in our schools and in our communities. Sarah has used her creativity to speak out against bullying, raising awareness amongst her peers of its very damaging impact and encouraging us all to play our role in taking a stand."

* 'Together we will make a difference - End Bullying Now', the week will run from Monday to Friday, November 17-21.


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