ZiguZajg tackles bullying

Bullying, with its strong emotions and hidden facets, is a perfect candidate for dramatic representation as well as raising awareness

Veronica Stivala, co-writer and performer, Cookie and the Art of Bullying. (Photo: Elisa von Brockdroff and Andrew Schembri)
Veronica Stivala, co-writer and performer, Cookie and the Art of Bullying. (Photo: Elisa von Brockdroff and Andrew Schembri)

It’s hardly surprising that an annual ‘arts festival for children and young people’ has bullying as one of its themes. It’s a powerful emotional cue into a story, as playwright and performer Veronica Stivala notes.

“Bullying is always good fodder for drama. You have strong emotions, a really tense group dynamic and always something that happens behind the actual ‘crime scene’,” Stivala, co-writer and performer for Cookie and the Art of Bullying, said.

Stivala’s show, co-written by Alexander Sobolla, deals with a six-year-old girl who grows tired of being bullied and decides to take matters into her own hands. She strikes a deal with the ‘head bully’, Rough: he will teach her the ‘art of bullying’ in exchange for delicious pastries from her mother’s bakery. But she soon discovers that bullying ‘isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’. 

“The issue is a very real one, and a very big problem, and one we felt needed to be tackled,” Stivala said about the show, which will be performed at St James Cavalier as part of this year’s edition of ZiguZajg.

Stivala is confident that artistic works can have a hand in raising awareness and even real-life change when it comes to bullying, but “only if the audience is properly involved in a story, and not in a lesson on how to behave correctly”.

“If they are interested in the story and feel for the victims in the play, and if they see that something is just wrong with the act of bullying, even with the bully suffering on some level too, they may take something away with them. But only if it is a heartfelt experience and not a school lesson on stage instead of in a classroom,” Stivala said, emphasising that “a play needs to touch the heart and not the head”.

Stivala’s Italian ZiguZajg compatriots, Teatro Distinto, will also be presenting a show that should strike a chord with kids who feel marginalised or vulnerable. Aptly titled The Black Sheep, the non-verbal performance is born out of a collaboration between young kindergarten and primary school, and tells the story of a black sheep who “in his diversity and solitude, [helps us] discover a rich and emotional world which affects the whole flock”.

“Our main character is deeply vulnerable, yet he defends his ideas, his values. He is sad at times. He is lonely. Yet, he remains the way he is. He does not try to change himself in order to please others,” Teatro Distinto’s Daniel Gol said, when asked whether what he hoped children would get out of the show.

“At the end his solution wins, because he never betrays his values. We are satisfied when at the end of the show, children agree and welcome diversity, contrast, coexistence, vulnerability. They like it – they feel relieved.”

ZiguZajg will be taking place in various venues around Valletta from November 17 to 23. For more information about the festival, log on to www.ziguzajg.org

More in Theatre & Dance