The world premiere of a 30-minute drama written and acted by Billings students took center stage at Montana State University Billings’ Petro Theatre Friday evening — and it got other students talking afterward.
The unnamed piece from the Let’s Talk Billings program featured seven stereotypical roles, with actors wearing signs identifying themselves — Bible Thumper, Brat, Burnout, Fag, Freak, Jock and Theater Geek. That last actor, Makay Loran, flipped her sign to “Suicide” in the middle of the show, working to entice the others to consider taking their lives because of their loneliness or depression or experiences with bullying.
The show included music and video and took the audience of more than 50 people through issues with which many teenagers struggle – including substance abuse. “The great thing about drugs,” said Burnout (Joanne Hoch), “is that when you do them, nobody asks why.”
“Nobody really gets me,” said Jock (Matthew Hagan), flipping a football. “If I don’t live up to people’s expectations, they won’t accept me.”
“It must be easy being nobody,” said Brat (Macy Cyr). “If I wasn’t here they’d just look for the next pretty face and no one would remember me in a week.”
The characters grew more desperate as the play went on, but all of them eventually concluded there’s someone out there who will listen to them. The students’ finale included the chorus, “No One is Alone,” and the audience — consisting largely of Let’s Talk Billings and Let’s Talk Miles City groups of students — rewarded the cast with a standing ovation.
Afterward, audience members discussed the impact of the show with the actors and director Myra Nurre.
“I thought (creating the show) was a real good outlet. I’ve kind of suffered from some of this kind of stuff, and putting some of me into (my character) was really helpful,” said Cosette McCave, who played Bible Thumper.
“We want to be active listeners to people around us who have problems,” said Tanner Bolin, who played Freak. “There are people who won’t take action (to, for example, stand up to a bully) because they think it’s too hard.”
“If someone had told me they were depressed or suicidal, I would have talked to them,” said Jordan Stief, who played Fag. “Now we look for (telltale signs) in the actions they take, and we’re more aware of our peers.”
Audience members applauded the students’ efforts and peppered them with comments and questions.
“I felt like you guys really know what it’s like,” said one audience member. Another said he wished the show had more realistically portrayed “someone being aggressively, actively pushed.”
A third member said she’d been bullied to the point where “I started to cut, and I did attempt suicide. I just needed to leave a door open so someone could help me.”
Suicide doesn’t “pick and choose” among rich and poor, popular and not so popular, said Cyr. That’s why students chose stereotypical roles — to indicate all students are potentially susceptible.
“Everyone wants someone who will listen to them,” Cyr added. “We’re trying to be more aware of others and not constantly being tied up in our own world. Life gets crazy and we need to take a step back sometimes and think, ‘Is this person doing all right,’ instead of always putting ourselves first.”
In January, the actors will begin performing the play for other student groups.
“This campaign is about peer to peer support, reaching out and helping others find resources,” said Matthew Eisen, the Let’s Talk project director.
“We wanted tonight to be about creativity — and having fun.”