Author: Carla Jean Whitley

POST INDEPENDENT: Shakespeare troupe combats bullying

“There are no easy answers, there are no clear heroes or villains.”

Money is missing. Antiphola is angry — she gave it to Dromio for safekeeping.

Rather than listen to his explanation, though, Antiphola strikes Dromio, repeatedly, with a French baguette.

Everett Phelan isn’t having it.

Phelan goes to his fourth-grade teacher, Julie Allen, for help. She breaks up the fight.

That scenario — sans fourth-grade intervention — may sound familiar if you’re a fan of William Shakespeare. But bullying may be recognizable no matter who you are, and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is ready to help.

Three CSF actors performed an abridged “The Comedy of Errors” for fourth- and fifth-grade students at Glenwood Springs Elementary School on Wednesday morning. The actors then led anti-bullying workshops in each class. The actors will perform and host workshops at Glenwood Springs Middle School on Thursday using “Julius Caesar” and exploring how to intervene in a planned attack.

“There’s something about that richness and that complicated aspect of a Shakespearean play that works really well with this frame of violence prevention,” said Amanda Giguere, CSF’s director of outreach. “Humans are so complicated. There are no easy answers, there are no clear heroes or villains. It allows us a truly lifelike way to see human behavior.

“But a Shakespeare play also gives us enough distance from our own time. We’re seeing this play from 400 years ago, and in a way it allows us to see ourselves a bit better.”

The Shakespeare and Violence Prevention program launched in 2011, and since it has served more than 80,000 Colorado students. CSF upped its repertoire to two plays this year, which will allow actors to better relate to different age groups.

“The Comedy of Errors” translates well to a younger audience. Anastasia Davidson doubled as the Antiphola twins and Jihad Milhem as the Dromio twins, both sets long separated from each other. Gustavo Marquez portrayed Adriano, Antiphola’s husband, and every other character in the half-hour adaptation.

Although the show retains the original Shakespearean language, it was easy to follow. The actors used hat and voice changes to show when they switched characters. Physical comedy, such as Antiphola striking Dromio with the baguette, transcended words.

“This program is a way for us to think about some of the violence and mistreatment we see in our own world through Shakespeare’s plays,” Davidson said to the student audience.

The actors asked the students about their experience with Shakespeare and the company’s own artistic choices, such as Adriano speaking almost exclusively in Spanish. They then discussed examples of mistreatment in the show and introduced the anonymous tip line Safe2Tell. That’s the thrust of this production and central to the decisions CSF staff make when adapting the play.

The program is a collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. The center’s research informs a study guide and the workshops.

“For them, this is a very exciting and innovative way to share their research through the arts,” Giguere said.

Teachers receive the study guide in advance of the performance so they’re able to prepare classes for the anti-bullying discussion. Allen’s fourth-grade class debriefed Wednesday during snack time, and then Marquez joined them for 50 minutes of teamwork and role-playing exercises.

“How is a bunch of people playing on a stage going to help me in my real life?” Marquez asked the students before he explained that theater requires teamwork, empathy and change.

Antiphola acted like a bully, he said, but that doesn’t mean she has to be a bully. Perhaps Adriano, who was a bystander in the scene, could instead become an “upstander” and intervene. In 57 percent of instances when a bystander becomes an upstander, bullying will stop in 10 seconds or less.

“What could you do?” Marquez asked.

The students responded with a variety of ideas: Ask Antiphola to stop and talk about why she was angry. Call for help.

“Get a teacher because you’re not allowed to use your phone in school,” Phalen said.

Marquez reminded the students about Safe2Tell and, in an anonymous survey, asked how many students would be willing to help someone being mistreated after the day’s program. Nearly every hand was raised.

Phelan already knows how to be an upstander: A classmate said Phelan and another friend stopped another child from picking on him. CSF and CSPV hope Shakespeare will help other children learn to do the same.