by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville’s Guerilla Show Series presented “Bully – It’s the fight of his life” on September 20, 21, 22, with LEE J. KAPLAN performing his one-man play, that he wrote from journals he kept as a young boy.
By way of background on the Guerilla Series, it was started three years ago by TJ as a way to present “theatre with a bite” and to augment its regular season schedule. Two such programs are scheduled each season, with the shows running between the main stage shows. The selections and performances have certainly enhanced the theatre experience of fans of the local theatre scene.
In selecting plays for their regular season, as well as for the Guerilla Series, one of the considerations given to any selection is the community impact of the work. This year’s selection is certainly timely, as bullying has become a national crisis. In fact, October has been designated as National Bullying Prevention Month.
Lee Kaplan is a Jacksonville native who has been active as a performer, writer and producer. He made his off-Broadway debut in “Penny Penniworth.” He has been a voiceover artist in several major advertising campaigns. He also operates a video editing business called Make It Reel.
Lee began keeping journals during elementary school, and included observations about the bullying he experienced, which included both physical and verbal abuse from fellow students, and at times, from educators as well. His one hour show begins with a pre-show intensive warm-up for a boxing match. He follows up by describing episodes with the bullies he encountered from his past. Using various accents, he was able to recreate these people and make them real to the audience. This is serious business but Lee was able to incorporate humor as he moved about the stage, with a chair and stool as his only furniture. Blown up projected images reinforced the atmosphere of daily threats and intimidation and gave us insight into the problem. Boxing is used as a metaphor throughout, as he knocks out his former adversaries and offers advice on how to defeat bullies.
“Bully” was directed by New York Director Padraic Lillis, who worked closely with Lee during his preparation for the New York International Fringe Festival in 2013, where it played to sold out houses. Lee just finished the Washington DC Capital Fringe Festival. While here in Jacksonville, the play was presented to staff and students from the Duval County Public Schools, and to mental health groups, and was received as an important work with a message that needs to be heard.
During the talk-back session held after the performance, Lee said that he envisions a future for this play and already has additional bookings in other areas. What he would really like is a run in an Off-Broadway theatre.
The talk-back proved to be very educational. For example, we learned that over three million students will be the victims of bullying during the year. An estimated 160, 000 students stay home every day because of fears related to bullying, and studies indicate that only one out of every four teachers will intervene when made aware of student bullying. Bullying has been around since human beings have been around, but the modern era has brought changes. In the past, students could go home and find some refuge from abuse, but with so many of our youth using the internet and cell phones to access social media, home is no longer a reliable safe haven.
What causes someone to become a bully? There are no set answers. Bullying behavior can be related to self-esteem issues, personality problems, or difficulty with anger management. And perhaps domestic problems and the number of divorces contribute to creating bullying tendencies in children.
Adults are not immune from bullying, and the audience talked about bullying in the workplace. An interesting point was brought up about workplace violence and shootings; perhaps bullying triggered the anger of former employees.
Since Mr. Kaplan’s family lives in this area and he will be coming home from time to time, we expect that there be a future performance of “Bully“ here. It would be great if some corporation came forth and sponsored this play for presentation in every school in the county, no, thinking big, the country!
Duval county schools have launched an anti-bullying hotline that is anonymous, safe, and confidential. Make schools safe, call 390-CALL (2255) or text or email [email protected] to report concerns about bullying..
Thanks to Theatre Jacksonville for bringing this production to Jacksonville and thanks to Lee Kaplan for an inspiring evening of theatre.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM