A unique way to hear anti-bullying message

'Bullies and Bonobos' fosters awareness about bullying

March 26, 2013

Germantown - The Zoological Society of Milwaukee is passing on a positive message to students at St. Boniface in Germantown.

At the end of April, St. Boniface hosts a production of "Bullies and Bonobos," a play that addresses both conservation issues of the bonobo, a rare great ape species, as well as bullying in school. The play comes to St. Boniface free of charge, thanks to Kohl's Cares, which helped fund the original production in partnership with the Zoological Society and the Milwaukee County Zoo.

The play was written by local playwright Neil Haven, who was commissioned to write the play in fall 2011. The theme is empathy. Teaching children empathy is a way to curb bullying.

The Zoological Society offers four different shows to communities. Feedback provided last year by local educators prompted the society to tackle bullying. The organization's main mission, however, is conservation education. The society got creative, talking to local psychologists and figuring out how conservation and bullying could be addressed in one of their productions.

Bonobos and empathy

That's when bonobos came into play. The Milwaukee County Zoo has the largest group of captive bonobos in North America and manages the Species Survival Plan for the ape.

"On one hand we have bullying, on one hand we want to talk about bonobos, and we worked with school psychologists in the area and we learned that empathy is a tenant for anti-bullying," theater coordinator Dave McLellan said.

Bonobos are a unique species because they have the capacity to show empathy, he said.

"This is the core idea that the play explores - understanding other people," he said.

"Bullies and Bonobos" follows Molly, a school-aged student who is new to school and has a passion for conservation. She is bullied by Jane, who even goes as far as destroying a conservation station Molly sets up at school to help great apes.

To cope with the bullying, Molly has an imaginary friend played by a bonobo puppet.

"Basically, the course of the show, there is an opportunity for the bully to empathize with the victim and for Molly to empa thize with the bully and through the mutual understanding of one anther, a resolution is reached," McLellan said.

By helping bonobos, the bully learns empathy, accomplishing both goals the Zoological Society set out to reach.

Ultimately, it is the students at St. Boniface who will benefit from the play.

"I am very pleased with Kohl's and the Zoological Society's efforts in helping spread an important anti-bulling message to our students. Having the communities support with performances like this is invaluable in the life of our children," St. Boniface Principal Jeff Van Rixel said. "The children really enjoyed past performances offered, and I know they directly benefit from the important materials covered."

For more information on various theater productions, visit wildtheater.org.

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