A new children’s musical from Random Farms Children’s Theater is set to debut this fall at schools in Westchester. #Be yourself tackles cyberbullying, with the central story centering on an app that lets kids vote for or against their peers.
“We follow a character named Jordan who downloads a new app to his phone. Jordan finds that in this app, posts aren’t just loved or hated,” said Random Farms’ art director. Sarah Boyle Told river log. As the musical unfolds, Jordan struggles with their online lives versus real friendships, and in the end begins posting the titular hashtag. “We can create an online persona for ourselves, but we also have to realize that how we treat people online affects them in real life.”
Tarryville fifth grader Kieran Salvatierra auditioned for the production and landed the role of Steve, a child who struggles to fit in at school. “He’s in a click called The Misfits, and he’s one of the least popular in the school,” he said. “And the Misfits try to be very tough, but deep down they’re just good kids.”
Boyle thinks an important aspect of the program is peer leadership, with the kids carrying the anti-bullying message, less the adults who usually enforce it. “What we find great about this particular type of program is that it’s a student-run anti-bullying program,” Boyle said. “So Keiran is in fifth grade and he will be performing the show for kids who are also in fifth grade.”
Salvatierra agrees that children will have a greater impact on their peers. “We were talking about how it would be especially nice if the kids did it, because when a normal parent does it, they just hear the same thing over and over again,” he said. “When a kid your age does it, it’ll be a little easier to hear.”
Although only 10 years old (and one of the youngest performers on the production), Salvatierra already has experience delivering anti-bullying messages in schools. As a student with Tourette Syndrome (TS), he worked with Youth Ambassadors from the Westchester Chapter of Tourette Association of Americans present in their class.
“They have a whole slide show that they showed to the class,” he said. “So they did that, then I spoke. I talked about not bullying people with TS. We also talked about what it is and some things that go with it.
Random Farms Kids’ Theater, a nonprofit Elmsford with a mission to make theater more accessible to students, commissioned #JustBeYou in 2020 as part of an ongoing anti-bullying initiative they started in 2008. When the musical was completed, the pandemic hampered early plans. The cast and company are excited to finally get it off the ground and will include post-show talks to further engage their audiences with its themes.
“We chat a bit after the show with all the students watching,” Boyle said. “So all of our cast members come to the front of the stage and our director hosts a Q&A with the audience. If the audience has questions about bullying or performing and acting, our cast is here to answer them.
#JustBeYou is sold out this fall, with three runs in Westchester school districts and one in Connecticut, but will resume in the spring. Parents or administrators interested in reserving #JustBeYou at their schools can contact Random Farms: [email protected]. The musical is recommended for students in grades 3-6.
#JustBeYou was created by: Eric C. Webb (Book); Stéphanie Bianchi (Music & Lyrics); Will Reynolds (Orchestra); Julie Schwartz Webb (director); Sarah Boyle (choreographer); and Ben Doyle (music director)