Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett's takeaway from Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour

Matthew Ivan Bennett’s anti-bullying play DIFFERENT=AMAZING was seen by more than 12,000 students, grades 4-6, between February and October 2014 as part of Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour. Davis Arts Council, Good Company Theatre and Art Access partnered on various stages of the tour. In a way, even though we’ve toured the show twice and the piece has been published, the work of DIFFERENT=AMAZING goes on. Following years of false starts, I’m finally allowing myself to write a little fiction—and my character and story is set in the sixth grade. The stack of shakily handwritten letters and pictures we got from elementary kids (when we were researching D=A) turns out to have yanked on a long thread in my extra-large sweater armor. Because of D=A, I’ve remembered things that I’d forgotten. For instance, I used to wear extra layers of clothes as armor. I would literally wear sweaters as armor . . . The last live show I saw was at Bluffdale Elementary in October. I watched actors Tyson Baker and Latoya Rhodes with a half-smiling envy. As they greeted the students, slapping hands and talking Minecraft, I felt so adult. Too adult. Too adult maybe to have written the piece. But when it got underway, and the students were giggling, or quiet, I realized innocence is at least half vulnerability. No matter how much I’ve armored myself, it means something to admit how weak or afraid I once was. Some of my armor, growing up, was words. I protected myself with a big vocabulary and I saw that too as I watched the actors jungle-gym through the show....

Actor Tyson Baker's takeaway from Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour

Tyson Baker spent most of 2014 performing in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s anti-bullying play DIFFERENT=AMAZING, which was seen by more than 12,000 students, grades 4-6, between February and October 2014 as part of Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour. Davis Arts Council, Good Company Theatre and Art Access partnered on various stages of the tour. DIFFERENT=AMAZING was beautiful in its honesty and simplicity. The idea: Advocating anti-bullying in elementary schools. The ingredients: A short, honest, fun kids touring show based on real-life accounts of bullying. A time frame of 40 minutes. Two actors. Two pairs of black All-Star Converse. A black bench. Two long-sleeve t-shirts. And willing ears. So how did it go? It was an amazing success! My beautiful and talented co-conspirator Latoya Rhodes and I toured to close to 50 schools along the Wasatch Front. We went to elementary schools, libraries, private academies, art galleries, boys & girls clubs and theaters. We even got to go to my old Junior High, Snowcrest Jr. High in Eden where my Mom still teaches P.E., Health and Spanish. We performed for my Mom’s 8th grade Health class and Mrs. Bulloch’s (my old Drama teacher!) 7th grade class. After our last performance, Mrs. Bulloch asked if we could play some acting games with the kids. Latoya and I goofed off with them for ten or fifteen minutes, the bell rang and the kids started to file out to the busses to take them home. Lingering behind was this young African-American girl, buried beneath these large, black-rimmed vintage glasses. She approached us timidly and struck up a conversation. She asked us about the stories, if they...

Actor Latoya Rhodes' takeaway from the Free Elementary School Tour

Latoya Rhodes spent most of 2014 performing in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s anti-bullying play DIFFERENT=AMAZING, which was seen by more than 12,000 students, grades 4-6, between February and October 2014 as part of Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour. Davis Arts Council, Good Company Theatre and Art Access partnered on various stages of the tour. How can I quantify an experience like DIFFERENT=AMAZING? I sit here at my computer pondering all the amazing things that happened on the tour. Reflecting back on my own childhood, on how DIFFERENT=AMAZING came to exist, to rehearsals with Jerry, Tyson and Matt, to where I am now: drinking a hot tea, smiling, and hoping I can at least share parts of a life changing show. I suppose I will just start . . . When I was younger I was bullied relentlessly because I looked different from all the other kids, had different hair, wore very thick glasses, was painfully shy and was a complete geek to the core. I was a prime target. The bullying even got so bad that it grew to be physical. I got into a physical fight in the hallways with one of my bullies, which I lost, and another bully punched me in the stomach at recess. Unfortunately, nobody at school did anything about it. Now being older, I have been asked frequently if I thought that bullying has gotten worse since I was a kid, and before the question is complete I answer yes. I mean, getting into fights to defend myself from those bullies was not ideal; however, the bullying nowadays is so severe that these children are...

Producing Director Jerry Rapier on creating the Free Elementary School Tour

Jerry Rapier has been Plan-B’s Producing Director since 2000. His son Oscar is now two and has changed how he sees everything. Since the market crash of 2008, myriad arts faculty positions at elementary, middle and high schools in Utah have been cut back to half-time and, in some cases, the programs either relegated to after-school activities or cut altogether. Funding for buses for field trips has also become so limited that the once-common arts field trip is quickly becoming a thing of the past. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah boasted the largest average class size but still managed to rank 12th nationwide in per-pupil spending in 1996. By 2012 (the most recent comprehensive data available), Utah still boasted the largest average class size but had dropped to 50th in per-pupil spending ($6,193 or 70% below the national average of $10,608). In response, Plan-B launched its Free Elementary School Tour, the first-ever educational tour from a professional theatre company in Utah focused on new work created specifically for elementary students. Envisioned as a six-year project featuring five commissions (the first year of the tour was PETER AND THE WOLF, a rare Plan-B production of an existing title), the goal is to provide free, professional, in-school performance at Title I schools while adding five new plays to the canon of theatre for young audiences (two for 4-6, three for K-3). During last year’s tour of DIFFERENT=AMAZING by Matthew Ivan Bennett (an anti-bullying piece drawn from the real-life experiences of Utah elementary students), I was energized by how well we were connecting with 4-6 graders. A few schools opted to...

Help fund Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour as part of #GivingTuesday on December 2

  Last year we at Plan-B decided that rather than conduct the standard, year-end “Holiday Ask” campaign last December, we at Plan-B Theatre joined more than 10,000 non-profit organizations worldwide for the 24-hour global fundraiser #Giving Tuesday. It turns out that we were the second most successful theatre company in the world . . . .so we’ve decided to participate again this December. #GivingTuesday is Tuesday, December 2 from 12:01am to 11:59pm (EST), which is really from 10:01pm on December 1 to 9:59pm on December 2 here in Zion. Please help fund our Free Elementary School Tour! Get familiar with how to make your gift that day. Plan-B Theatre Company, via the Free Elementary School Tour, is the only professional theatre company in Utah creating new work specifically for elementary students. Envisioned as a six-year project featuring five commissions, the goal is to provide free, professional, in-school performance at Title I schools while adding five new plays to the canon of theatre for young audiences. The Free Elementary School Tour launched with Sergei Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF, an interactive journey through the classic story of the hungry wolf, the ill-fated duck, the fortunate cat, the fearless little bird, and the brave and cunning Peter. PETER AND THE WOLF was seen at no charge by more than 10,000 K-3 students between September of 2012 and January of 2014. Performing Arts Coalition, Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, Davis Arts Council and Salt Lake Symphony partnered at different stages of the tour. The second Free Elementary School Tour, the world premiere Matthew Ivan Bennett’s DIFFERENT=AMAZING, was drawn from real-life bullying experiences of elementary students,...

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on creating DIFFERENT=AMAZING

Matthew Ivan Bennett has been Plan-B Theatre’s resident playwright since 2007.  In addition to four radio plays and more than a dozen short plays, his BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, MESA VERDE and ERIC(A) have premiered at Plan-B. His new play DIFFERENT=AMAZING (inspired by the 2010 event of the same name) is Plan-B’s second annual elementary school tour. I was bullied. As a sixth-grader I got into a fistfight over a pink sweatshirt. I suppose I technically could’ve avoided that confrontation—the bruises and the bloody nose—but I was never easily cowed. I was prideful—and I sincerely felt that there was nothing wrong in a boy wearing pink. Nevertheless, I was small, and I suffered for my smart mouth. Junior high was worse. My lunch, or lunch money, was stolen. Sometimes, in the short scurrying period between classes, my locker would be kicked shut five times. I was classically held by one boy and slugged by another. The bigger boys liked to lift me and throw me simply because they could. I was chased through the city park. Stones were thrown at me—when I’d been chased onto a church’s rooftop. Once, a pair of boys followed me home, burst into our front door (my parents still at work) and chased me into my room. They taunted me and beat on my door as I held it closed with my foot. The bullies splintered the bottom of the hollow pine door and I told my parents that I had done it. I reacted largely by, well, becoming weird. I wore black. I wrote stupidly enigmatic sayings on the chalkboard. A rumor began...

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