HAMPDEN, Maine — Girls always have used gossip and spread rumors to bully one another, but nowadays, with most teens carrying a cell phone or having access to a computer, their ability to spread lies and cause pain is instant and far-reaching.
“This isn’t ‘bully’ like when we were kids,” Joye Levy, director of education for Penobscot Theatre, said Wednesday. “You can’t escape … and the computer follows you home.”
Penobscot Theatre, Acadia Hospital and eight University of Maine students, with support from the C. Walder Park Foundation, are performing Texas playwright Linda Daugherty’s award-winning “The Secret Lives of Girls” at area schools.
“The focus is totally about how girls are bullying one another and the ramifications of that,” said Levy, who is directing the play with A.J. Mooney, who also plays the mother in the piece.
The topic of cyberbullying has become a hot-button issue as technology has progressed to the point where savvy young people easily can send instant messages or set up chat rooms or websites specifically designed to humiliate a peer.
“The Acadia Hospital places a high value on community outreach, and we are pleased to once again partner with Penobscot Theatre by providing funding and our expertise in adolescent mental health for ‘Secret Life of Girls,’” said David S. Proffitt, Acadia Hospital president and CEO.
The play, which is based on a volleyball team, has cliques, an “in crowd” and “outsiders,” and touches upon how girls may use friendships as weapons and manipulate one another by exposing each other’s secrets, and how these actions lead to serious behavior problems.
“One girl ends up being a cutter, one ends up with an eating disorder and one ends up with depression,” Levy said.
The 45-minute play ends with what Levy calls a talk-back, which is designed to empower those in the audience to stop bullying.
“We talk about when someone could have stopped the bullying,” Levy said. “We’re creating defenders … we let kids practice being that voice. They need practice and theater is a great place to practice.”
The troupe performed in Houlton, Camden, Rockport and on Mount Desert Island last week and was in Hermon, Orrington and Hampden earlier this week. They will be in Brewer on Thursday and in Old Town on Friday.
“We couldn’t get into Bangor,” said Scott Levy, Penobscot Theatre director, adding the performances were offered at no cost.
The texts, pictures and e-mails the bullies use in the play are projected behind the actors, so the young audience members easily can see examples of cyberbullying, he said.
Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee said local student survey data show that 22 percent of teens say they have been bullied on school property.
“That’s a lot of kids,” he said. “They way you stop bullying is students have to adopt a culture that bullying is not tolerated.”
Telling a student to just ignore a bully doesn’t work, he said.
Today’s performance in Brewer will be done for seventh- and eighth-graders at Brewer Middle School.
For the talk-back, “We’re going to divide them by gender and talk to the boys about bullying and the girls about bullying,” said Principal Bill Leithiser, who said he’s especially interested in the cyberbullying dynamic of the play. “It’s should be pretty interesting.”
Unlike boy bullies, who typically leave visible signs such as bruises or black eyes, girl bullies often hurt others on the inside and victims internalize the pain and torment they feel, Joye Levy said. She said that during one of the talk-backs, a young boy got up and said, “Boys aren’t this unkind.”
“It’s creating a real dialogue,” she said. “We’re starting some really great conversation in the state.”