Hudson Middle School uses theater to address bullying

HUDSON – In an effort to convey the message behind National Bullying Awareness Month, the Hudson City School District is using the arts to get the attention of students, their parents and members of the community. Friday, November 4, The Bystander Project, a theatrical adaption of James Preller’s anti-bullying novel “The Bystander,” was presented at M.C. Smith Intermediate School to both students and the public.

“It’s a book no one wants to put down,” said Lisa Dolan, the school district’s literacy coach. The project began last April during spring break in a workshop for students run by Ms. Dolan and Intermediate School teacher Edgar Acevedo and performers from the Concrete Temple Theatre, an arts group in New York City.

The script and performance were created by the Concrete Temple Theatre which the school district hired to mount the production. Ten M.C. Smith students will also act in the play. Set in a middle school, the story draws on some of the author’s remembered experiences as a bystander to bullying when he was a middle school student.

As part of The Bystander Project, the author came to the Intermediate School last week to speak with students about his creative process. He described his background, including how he grew up in Long Island as the youngest child of seven, and how he wrote, illustrated, and sold his original handmade comic books. Mr. Preller told the student he is often inspired by past experiences, and his life in Delmar with his three school age children, when he writes his stories. “I use my ordinary life all the time,” he said.

Books, said Mr. Preller, “provide equipment for living. You see how other people might handle things. You learn how other people might feel. . . . We read to stand in someone else’s shoes, to understand.”

Mr. Preller is the author of 40 Jigsaw Jones mystery stories and a number of middle grade books. To write “The Bystander,” the author did extensive research that included talking to teachers.

“A bystander,” said Mr. Preller, “has the power to make a difference. Don’t stand by in silence.”

The project is funded in part by the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation fund. It is part of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation’s arts enrichment program, which connects students with local arts communities. Last spring the two organizations announced a $200,000 grant to the Hudson City School District, $100,000 of which was required to be raised by community members to cover endowment, programs, and fundraising costs. Attorney Carmine Rapport and Accountant Richard Koskey raised the $100,000 from private organizations.

“We were happy we were able to accomplish this,” said Mr. Koskey in a phone interview. He declined to give more detail about donors.

The theater group’s website, www.concretetempletheatre.com, says that additional funding was obtained from the New York State Council on the Arts, A.R.T./New York Creative Space Grant, supported by the Mellon Foundation, and the Hudson Opera House, which hosted a reception following the 6:30 performance.

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