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Sunday, July 20

I have had a great week working up in the flies in the Whitley Bay Playhouse. I was helping with the Tynemouth Amateur Operatic Society's production of Sweet Charity. All in all, I think the show was performed well to appreciative, if not diminutive, audiences.

Working backstage is as much a pleasure as working on stage. I was asked which I prefer and I had to answer that I'd rather not give either up. Backstage work requires two minimum abilities:

  1. You have to be able to wear all black (or at least dark) clothing and look like you mean it (I look great in black - it's a very slimming colour).

  2. You have to be comfortable standing around with your arms folded, doing nothing for long periods of time.

I explained my theory of backstage work to both the work-experience kids that turned up to the theatre. The first one, a 14 year old lass, seemed quite impressed with this idea and, though a little shy, was generally cheered up by my uplifting banter before the show started. The second fellow, a 15 year lad, who shall remain nameless, clearly had issues.

I said hello to this fellow and he said something like "Hi, I'm on work experience, not that you're probably interested in that." Being a person who does like to take an interest, I reassured him that I cared at least a little bit and asked him his name. He remained on the defensive, telling me his name but then expecting me to taunt him about his similarity to "a fictional character in popular children's books". Now to be perfectly honest, despite his round glasses, I had not got him down as a Harry Potter lookalike. I realised, from his oblique description of the character he's been branded with, that it was indeed a Potter thing, and I attempted to reassure him that he looked nothing like Harry - except for the glasses. Most importantly, I pointed out, he didn't seem to have a scar on his forehead.

When you're teenage, and your hormones are raging out of control, and you start to question life itself, and the world seems against you... well, it's tough to be made the victim of an entire class full of taunters. This lad identified himself as the bullied and even pointed out that he'd wondered what suicide would be like. A few moments later he was bragging about his glittering performing career - he'd been in an advert on National TV... and on radio... and in a Catherine Cookson TV special. On the one hand we had a victim of bullying, on the other a rather cocky kid who was more impressed by what he had been involved with than what he may one day be able to achieve if he tried. I don't like to take anything away from the star of stage and screen, but as a kid, the demands on you to perform on TV are simpler - go on and look cute!

Realising that the bullying was a big deal to him, I attempted to offer him my empathy. I should point out that this lad had been spiky in the extreme during the conversation, frequently treating my comments as though they were barbed, when, in fact, I don't generally go round bullying lads who are half my age and experience. Indeed, I told him that specifically. I also told him how he probably felt when the class singled him out - I could tell from his reaction that I was right. "Were you bullied?" he asked - "Oh yes" said I, as though it were a mere trifle (mmm trifle). I went on to say that it's obvious to be advised not to react, but it's a lot harder to achieve no reaction when everyone is working at you to get one. It takes two to bully, I postulated. One to bully and one to be bullied. "No," said my young student, "it takes, three - you need one to look on and be impressed by the bullying." Good thinking, Robin, but no cigar. "Perhaps," said I, "it depends on the bullying in question - some bullies are doing it to show themselves they can exert control and so don't need an audience."

This lad was a tough nut to crack and I was tiring of his defensive accusatory tones in conversation. I finally said to him something like "Look, we're all on the same team here, working backstage. And anyway, I'm far too old, wise and bald to start picking on someone half my age." I thought this would help him. I'll never forget his reply - "You forgot to mention fat." This lad decided the best course of action was to bully me! He changed in my head from the unfortunate victim of bullying at school into an annoying young upstart who probably need a few copies of "Harry Potter and the teenager's attitude" shoved up his smug arse! Of course I said nothing and climbed up into my gantry.

It takes at least two for bullying. One to bully and one to be bullied - I am too old and wise to play either role.


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