AMHERST - They wore pink shirts to help out a fellow student being bullied and to start a nationwide campaign to end bullying. Travis Price and D.J. Shepard from Central Kings Rural High School didn't know it then, but what they started as a way to help out a fellow student would go farther than they ever dreamed.
The play In Pink, presented by the Neptune Theatre at Amherst Regional High school, is about those two boys and the ups and downs they faced while starting, what is now known as Pink Shirt Day. Price and Shepard distributed the pinks shirts among the students at their school and the campaign grew from there.
"I think bullying has always been a problem in schools," said Matt Amyotte, who portrayed Price in the play. "At every level (in schools) there needs to be an awareness and a plan for dealing with bullying because it is prevalent and it is a problem and any school that says they don't have a bullying issue or that bullying doesn't exist in their school isn't looking hard enough. It doesn't need to be physical, there's verbal, emotional."
Amyotte said there was one scene that really hit home for him and drives the meaning of the play. The scene is between Shepard and his father, who reveals to the teenager that one of the teachers he is having a problem with had been bullied while he was in school and his classmates could have stopped it but didn't.
"Bullying is as much a problem for the bully and the person being bullied as it is for all the bystanders who watch it happen and don't do anything," said Amyotte. "That perpetuates bullying, that tells the bully that what he is doing is OK and it makes the person being bullied feel like they don't have an escape."
Though the message about the play is a serious one, there were some not so serious moments that took place to keep the students entertained and engaged. Simon Henderson, who portrayed Shepard, said keeping a straight face was sometimes hard to do while on stage because of some of the characters his partner had to play.
"Getting to play the lady who runs the thrift store was really fun for me," said Amyotte. "Because the drag is so over the top that it's not subversive or offensive, it's just kind of silly."
"I spend most of my time trying not to laugh at the stuff that Matt does," said Henderson. "That's the most fun I have, it's actually not that fun, it's really irritating because I can't stop smiling. He's not even trying to make me laugh and he just does."
Student Corey Wheaton was in attendance for the presentation. He enjoyed the play and thinks the message got across, and also helped the students understand what's behind the Pink Shirt Day they participate in each year.
"I thought the presentation was very well done," said Wheaton. "I think that they were very comedic in what they were doing and I thought they did very well portraying what those kids did. We participate normally every year (in Pink Shirt Day) and it's great to have background on what we were doing. I thought it was a good message to give to our school. I think it gives more meaning because we did have the pink shirt day and it gave more meaning to what we were going on about."
Amyotte also said though the schools participate in Pink Shirt Day and take part in Anti-Bullying campaigns that the fight to end bullying is not over. He said that is one of the messages that came out during the presentation of the play.
"Pink Day is lovely and Anti-Bullying Day is excellent and these are all really great initiatives but they don't cure the problem and they don't solve the issue and it doesn't just go away," he said. "So you have to be aware and you have to be vigilant and you have to really be on top of it and there's always something to work toward, which is, I think, a really important part of this message."
The play was one of a couple of productions brought to the area by Showcase Productions. It also sponsored Neptune's Beethoven Lives Upstairs for elementary school students.
"It's part of our mandate to develop an appreciation for the performing arts," Ed McKay of Showcase Productions said. "We also want to encourage young people to consider participating in theatre."
Money raised to bring in Neptune Theatre comes from Showcase Productions' productions as well as its theatre trips to New York.
Showcase also provides about $10,000 in busaries and scholarships to graduating high school students going into the arts.