By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Today’s middle school kids face perils unheard of a generation ago. Sexting and online bullying compound the dangers during an already risky age — early adolescence.
“It’s scary,” said David Kline, a high school teacher.
Kline wears two hats. A drama teacher at Bellevue High School, he is also artistic director of Open Door Theatre. His new play, “Making Choices,” is aimed at helping middle school students be clear about boundaries, navigate dating relationships and make wise decisions about online activities.
“Making Choices” is among three productions offered to school audiences by Open Door Theatre. Now based in Arlington, the nonprofit organization has been using drama to teach personal safety to school-age children since 1983.
Next Thursday, school counselors, principals, PTA members and parents are invited to see “Making Choices” and two plays intended for elementary students at a free Open Door Theatre event at the Everett Mall’s Everett Music Hall.
Wendy McClure, Open Door Theatre’s managing director, said the 7 p.m. event will showcase “Making Choices” plus “Stop It Now,” a play for kindergarten though third-grade students, and “Talk About Stuff,” for kids in fourth through sixth grades. It’s a chance for school leaders to learn about scheduling a show and meet Open Door Theatre’s cast.
Students ages 13 and older are welcome to attend, but McClure said the middle school play isn’t appropriate for younger children.
“I think it’s great,” Seth Dawson said of next week’s Open Door Theatre event. A former Snohomish County prosecutor and longtime crusader against child abuse, Dawson was among the founders of Open Door Theatre in 1983. He was a member of the theater’s original board of directors.
“It’s always been a small, grass-roots organization,” Dawson said. “All these performances do some good. You want to keep them going as much as you can.”
McClure said tough economic times have meant fewer school performances for Open Door Theatre. The group is supported by performance fees — usually $625 — grants and donations from foundations, service clubs and individuals. The cost may be less in schools with many low-income families or if there is another funding source.
Open Door Theatre mostly serves public schools in Snohomish County, but the group has traveled around the country. Teaching personal safety skills to prevent child abuse has always been the goal.
Programs for younger children focus on understanding differences between healthy and unhealthy touching. “Stop It Now” and “Talk About Stuff” were written by R.N. Sandberg, a playwright and Princeton University faculty member who once headed the drama department at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts.
Kline said “Making Choices” is about a group of middle school kids, some involved in sexting and spreading rumors. “There are choices about how far you go in setting personal boundaries,” Kline said. “Love is not abuse. You need to respect yourself and each other. It’s always OK to say no.”
In writing the drama, he was guided by talks with Bellevue High health teachers, experts from Youth Eastside Services, and with his own students.
“Kids are saying, ‘These are my issues. I deserve to have the information to deal with them,’ ” Kline said.
“It’s a different world our kids are growing up in,” McClure said. “Now the risks are higher. Things that go online are forever.” While technology has changed the world, “unfortunately childhood sexual abuse and violence haven’t stopped,” she said.
“It would be wonderful not to be needed anymore,” McClure said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Personal safety shows for schools
The nonprofit Open Door Theatre will show three plays aimed at school audiences, “Stop It Now,” “Talk About Stuff” and “Making Choices,” 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Everett Music Hall. The hall is in a remodeled Everett Mall theater, 1403 Everett Mall Way. School counselors, principals, PTA members, parents and teens welcome; not appropriate for younger children. The free event is an opportunity for school leaders to learn about scheduling shows for their students. Information: 425-303-8783 or www.opendoortheatre.org.