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.

But as it always goes with your most successful pieces, the biggest lesson wasn’t about me or for me. With D=A I learned once again how powerful art is when it’s built on a conversation with people. I can’t imagine writing the show without that big brave stack of confessions from the students. I feel honored to have been a part of their story. And glad to work with a company where we do these things.

Click here to support Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour as part of #GivingTuesday!

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