Old Brick, BOE challenge bullying

For 21 years, the Old Brick Playhouse (OBP) has toured educational shows to elementary schools, reinforcing the state Department of Education’s focus on themes such as drug abuse prevention and anti-bullying. This year, OBP will be presenting one show for secondary students and one for elementary students about self-image as it relates to anti-bullying measures.

In 2009, The Old Brick Playhouse was awarded the Coming Up Taller award from the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services as one of the top Arts Educational programs in the nation.

Since 1992, the OBP team has performed for a cumulative audience of more than 2.5 million students. The OBP has also provided specialized programming to military bases and private schools in times of crises. Additionally, the Old Brick Playhouse has been merited at the Edinburg Festival Fringe in Scotland and the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. and won the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Award for educational programming.

Studies indicate that bullying is an urgent issue, based on the negative impact it can have on entire schools. Increased student aggression affects both cognitive and moral development, academic adjustment, resiliency and adaptive behavior for adolescents. Early intervention and exposure is one method that has proven successful in decreasing the number of bullying situations in and after school. The very basic building block essential to anti-bullying efforts is to make certain that students have a strong sense of self-esteem.

OBP creates a comprehensive educational experience with its touring shows. Each participating teacher is sent an activity guide prior to the performance. The activity guide provides vocabulary words that can often assist in communicating about a particular topic as well as words that can assist the students in dealing with the particular subject matter in real time. The activity guides also provide class exercises that prompt students to come up with their own ideas about the topic.

Each performance involves student interaction and uses student ideas in guided brainstorming portions of the performance. This year’s secondary school performance will include student performances through improvised acting scenes.

“All our performances purposely provide channels for students to interact with in the performance. The most powerful moments in our shows often come when students reveal their own perspectives,” said Executive Director Missy Armentrout McCollam. “Sometimes we are blown away by the profundity and careful reflection students share during our performances. The more students, teachers and parents join together in an awareness on bully prevention, the less likely these incidents are to occur.” In our show, we not only address the students being bullied, but also the bully and the bystander so everyone feels hopeful that extant situations can change.”

Following each performance, a principal or teacher fills out an evaluation form. This form provides an opportunity for educators to communicate what worked well in the performance as well as what aspects of the performance needs improvement. All comments are reviewed and taken into consideration for the following year.

The shows this year are titled “Darla, The Disgruntled Diva” and “The Diva Drama Tour.” Both shows will use live theater as a vehicle by which audiences can learn useful tools in identifying and responding to bullying situations through self-image. The shows employ improvisation, comedy, magic and puppetry to excite students while providing practical skills for coping with difficult situations. The actors include Armentrout McCollam, Phil Smith, Arin Dickson and Shannon Harman Kerr.

Over the next two months, the OBP team will visit elementary schools and secondary schools students in Randolph, Pocahontas, Webster, Upshur and Barbour counties. This program is presented with special assistance from the Randolph County Board of Education, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the National Endowment for the Arts, the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts and the Snowshoe Foundation.

OBP is a nationally recognized and award-winning educational theater located in Elkins. For more information about the touring shows and other OBP programming, please visit the website at www.theoldbrick.org or call 304-637-9090.

One student commented. “The Old Brick saved my life.”