RESPECT for teens

“Sometimes you just have to be the bigger person.”

I have had the pleasure this spring to work on two elementary school theatre residencies and a play tour to middle and high schools in the Okanagan. As in the past, I find touring to schools is a real art form that gives me an instant rush and a reality check about where kids are at and what is important to them.   When kids love you, you know it because they tell you.  If they are bored you are forced to step up your game or you will lose them - quickly. Every time it is inspiring.  I guess that is why I have been doing this for over 15 years!

In 2015 I wrote a play called RESPECT for Kelowna Community Resources and The Respect Network based on the real life story of 16 year old Kaela Wilton’s mural about two boys kissing and her school’s reaction.  The Onoway, Alberta teen’s story was very controversial because after being cleared by administration it was later covered up with a bulletin board because they received complaints from a student about it being “offensive”. The case started a national debate, featured on Global and CTV National news and on all social media platforms, about what are the rights of artists, students who identify themselves as LGBT, what is offensive and what are basic human rights of expression and the LGBT community.  Our play received a lot of attention as well and was featured in several local newspaper articles last year and was highlighted in the US Publication Tru Life Magazine.

This year and last I toured with three young actors who played my students in the play, but were also once my real life students at Rutland Senior Secondary when I was a theatre teacher there.  This year’s cast includes the talented Ashley Johnson, James Szabo and Adam Weaver. Once again we incorporated our real life stories of dealing with racism, mental illness, homophobia and hatred into the play and candidly share them with the students at the end.  It is raw, real and they love it.

I think it is the fact that students and staff see us in a powerful play and then learn our real stories at the end that tie into why they love RESPECT so much.  Perhaps it is the timely nature of the fact that these issues are so front and centre for what schools are dealing with right now that has engaged them so much.  For whatever the reason, RESPECT is a hit with teenagers. Last year we received huge rounds of applause and cheers with a few kids coming up to talk to us at the end. This year we have had over 60 kids come up and talk to us about these issues and personally thank us for coming and making these issues easier to talk about.  Yes, there have been some tears, hugs, and today autographs - lots and lots of autographs.  This week we have performed for almost 1500 kids and at every school the principal said to us, “Thank you. This play comes at the perfect time. You have no idea how much time we are spending in school dealing with these issues.”  It was incredible to have the same comment come from every secondary principal.

But how do you know you have captured an elementary school student’s imagination with theatre?  It is actually very easy; it is when they hug you and say, “when will you be back?” For middle and high school students, it is when they follow you out, help you with loading up the van and they give you a very heartfelt thank you, looking you right in the eyes.

There is nothing as rewarding for me than performing for and with kids.  It is an extraordinary pleasure to feel like you are really making a difference and I know it makes me a better writer and performer.

However the real respect goes to those school teachers, counsellors and principals that work with kids and teens every day to help feel good about who they are and what their future holds. To the kids who go to school ready to share their ideas and their true selves with each other, no matter how hard that might be - they have my sincere respect and support. Now bravery is really making a difference.

For more about Kelowna Community Resources, The Respect Network or booking our free play RESPECT for your  Middle or High School, contact Dorothee Birker, Project Coordinator, at 250-860-4911 or [email protected].  Our tour wraps up on June 15. 

More Bonnie on Stage articles

About the Author

Bonnie Gratz is an actor, director, and playwright. She is the Artistic Director of Kelowna's New Vintage Theatre, and a member of the Playwright's Guild of Canada and The Literary and Dramaturges of North America. 

For more on Bonnie, check out www.bonnie-gratz.com or check out www.newvintage.ca

Contact Bonnie at:  [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories