State Theatre, Windmore present free anti-bullying event Wednesday

Posted by on May 2, 2016

Culpeper teenager Freya Slocumb was tall for her age, outgoing and a new kid on the block.

She also endured bullying as a younger child.

“The girl up the street was merciless in spreading rumors,” said the 15-year-old homeschooled sophomore. “She was just nasty.”

Slocumb tried to change to fit in, but the bullying gripped her emotions.

“It took a lot to overcome,” she said.

A well-spoken and affable actress who has appeared in various local dramatic endeavors, Slocumb hopes to help the community learn how to stand up to mean people as a first-time director of three scenes from “The Bully Plays,” a Dramatic Publishing production helping to inspire social change.

In partnership with Culpeper-based Windmore Foundation for the Arts, the drama comes to the Culpeper State Theatre stage at 7 p.m. on Wednesday as part of a free anti-bullying forum.

“I was really excited and nervous to be chosen director because of the potential impact it can have,” Slocumb said. “Bullying is so close to me personally and I know other people going through it, so it really strikes a chord.”

Each of the three scenes, with a combined cast of 10 young people and one adult, will last 10 to 15 minutes. Each will focus on different aspects of bullying and the repercussions.

The “Bully Pulpit,” by Dwayne Hartford, is about two friends — one soft-spoken and one strong-willed — and the inability of the one to stand up to the other.

In “Blu,” by Gloria Clunie, a young girl commits suicide after being bullied, leaving her brother and friends to search for clues in her journal.

Finally, “Bystander Blues,” by Trish Lindberg, reveals the conflicting inner thoughts of a group of young people who stand by and watch as another is bullied.

Local mom Amanda Elswick portrays the mom in “Blu,” and she, too, personally relates to its message. She wore thick glasses, was overweight as a child and was often ridiculed by her peers.

“It was so bad I would get physically sick,” said Elswick, at play rehearsal in the theater last week.

Now raising her three young children, she has taken a kinder and healthier approach.

“It’s probably one of the most important things we can do for our kids to teach them that everybody needs to be loved and respected,” Elswick said.

She encouraged people who are being bullied to seek out help.

“It breaks my heart when kids feel so alone and don’t see any other option but suicide,” said Elswick, whose son, Nicholas Landon, is also appearing in one of the on-stage plays.

“I teach my kids to accept everybody.”

State Theatre Executive Director Steven Barker referenced a community-based reason for supporting the plays.

“It is to ensure a focused conversation is happening in the community that yields individual and community intention and awareness of the social problem,” he said.

Barker also experienced bullying.

“I want to make sure anyone who is feeling targeted finds strategies for coping,” he said.

Fran Cecere, with Windmore, said they were inspired to sponsor Wednesday’s anti-bullying forum out of interest for local youth. The main purpose of the stage play and discussion is education, she added.

“Most importantly is how to prevent it, what to do when you see it, where to go for help, who is affected by it, how do children feel, and how does it affect the entire family,” Cecere said. “We will discuss face-to-face bullying and cyber bullying.”

Windmore Executive Director Debra Smyers said it’s not just children who are bullied, mentioning recent claims that Fairfax County firefighter Nicole Mittendorff endured cyber bullying before killing herself in Shenandoah National Park.

“Bullying affects people of all ages,” Smyers said.

Slocumb said when she was getting bullied she felt isolated. Now, she hopes to turn her pain into hope.

“Drama is a way to change people,” Slocumb said. “Doing good in life is what makes people happiest in the end, when they can realize hey, I can start something or I can step up to stop this.”

 Every person is a unique individual, and just because someone is different from you doesn’t justify hatefulness, she said. Being bullied eventually altered – for the better – how Slocumb interacted.

“It changed how I looked at people and I came to understand the need to surround myself with people who will accept me for me and finding friends who would stand up for me,” she said.