Maren Carter, center, re-enacts her bullying experience in "MEAN." Photography by Jacqueline Byers.
by Kathy Magnuson
"You're fat." "You're ugly." "I wouldn't date her. She's not pretty, she's fat." Those are the kinds of comments Maren Carter, a junior in high school, has heard since she was in fourth grade. Offhand comments that just stuck. It was the kid who sat across from her in German class or the texts about dating someone-or not. She didn't talk about the bullying with anyone. She tried to laugh and go along with it, but it hurt.
Carter followed a path from private, personal pain of being bullied to claiming her power and literally shining a spotlight on it on stage.
When Rita Cannon, a local playwright and acquaintance, was composing a script for "MEAN," a play about bullying, Carter agreed to tell her story. She thought it would be helpful because she knew others went through similar experiences. "By putting it out there and saying, 'This has happened to me,' people can connect with it and know they are not the only ones this happens to," Carter said.
And anyway, she would be anonymous, she thought.
Then she was encouraged to audition for the role at Youth Performance Company (YPC), which had commissioned the production. Her thinking went from "I might not even get the part" to "Who else could play it better than me?"
When she landed the part it was almost a relief to be going public with her pain, she said, playing a role based on a compilation of experiences, including her own. Her friends and others around her would now be aware of what she had been living with.
"When we started rehearsals I would cry every night. It was hard to re-live that stuff. It felt like it was actually happening again," Carter explained. She found the rest of the YPC cast supportive. "They were still there for me." when she talked about being bullied, "just letting it all out."
By the time the show debuted in spring 2011, it had gotten easier for Carter-until the night her friends came, including one who had known her "forever" and had no idea about her pain. She displayed to her friends-and the world-the agony of getting to the point where she had been ready to die.
Now Carter's back for more. She's in rehearsal for a remount of the production opening Oct. 5. When asked why she would put herself through this not just one time, but two, she replied, "You can never really know but even if we only helped only one person I feel like that's enough. If we changed one person's perspective, that is enough. If we stopped one person from committing suicide, that's enough. One person."
YPC has developed a resource list of websites and books on bullying for teachers, parents and kids.
IF YOU GO: What: MEAN When: Oct. 5-23, 2011 Where: Youth Performance Company, Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, 1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis Cost: $12/Adults; under 18 or over 61/$10 FFI: www.youthperformanceco.com