Starting this weekend Queer Theatre Kalamazoo and FaceOff Theatre will present a brand new play called SAFE. It’s about a woman named Nancy who misses her chance to help a friend being bullied in high school. Later in life, she finds out that her son is now a bully.
QTK’s performance is part of a rolling world premiere of the play through five cities - including Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. The Kalamazoo performances will be in the Epic Center Theatre, September 16th and 17th at 7:30 p.m. QTK Executive Director Laura Henderson says there will also be a “pay what you can” show on September 17th at 2 p.m.
“We really want people to see this regardless of what they can afford financially, but nobody can afford not to see this and the impact that it will make on our community if we can take something away from it,” says Henderson.
Buffalo, New York playwright Donna Hoke says SAFE was partially inspired by a boy in Long Island, New York who was murdered by peers for being gay. Hoke says she thought not only about the victim and his family, but also about the parents of the kids who committed the hate crime:
“I just as a parent immediately starting thinking about the parents - what do they think when their kids have done this and they’re going to be suffering for it? Do they think they’re culpable at all? And it was kind of a nagging question. But I didn’t do anything with it and I wrote a couple other plays. And then in my school district, there was a kid who committed suicide after being bullied and those same kinds of questions came back.”
The play switches between two time periods in Nancy’s life: 1986, when her friend goes missing after being bullied and 2011, after she finds out that her own son Rex has become a bully to a gay classmate.
Many of the characters in both time periods are played by the same actors. The man that plays Nancy’s overbearing father also plays her domineering husband. A boy named Ace who bullies Nancy and her friend in high school is played by the same actor as her son Rex. Director Kevin Dodd says it’s an interesting way to look at how bullying itself has changed over time:
“What kinds of things were kids saying to each other and doing to each other. And technology makes a huge difference when you look at that in terms of the way people are bullying through Youtube and through social media. And it’s much more insidious rather than physically violent.”
Though there are clear bullies and victims, don’t expect any two-dimensional characters here. Actor Kyle Lampar says in some ways it’s hard not to feel sorry for his character Rex. He’s trying very hard to please his father - a heavy-handed and often violent man.
“Also being on the football team and everything - there’s this sort of perception for how you should act and how you behave and everything like that," Lampar adds.
"I think Rex sort of struggles with that too of accepting other people, but realizing if he does so it could potentially be social suicide if you will.”
Playwright Donna Hoke says SAFE isn’t just about bullying. It’s also about the silent bystander, the person who sees an injustice happening and doesn’t do anything - usually because they’re afraid. Silas Kachman plays Todd. He says even if you’ve never been a silent bystander, most of us can relate to having those difficult conversations with friends and family - talking about issues like race, gender, and sexuality. But how do you teach tolerance?
“It’s kind of a trope that people go to a Thanksgiving dinner with their family and they have to navigate that all the time," says Kachman.
"And I think that is also what the play is about is trying to get the courage to do it in a way that is aggressive enough but also in a way that is productive.”
Queer Theatre Kalamazoo Executive Director Laura Henderson says she and the cast would especially like families to come and discuss the play together.