Musical ‘The Hundred Dresses’ confronts bullying, bystanders


Source: University Relations

“The Hundred Dresses,” opening Friday at the Theatre and Interpretation Center, addresses issues of bullying and bystanders among children. Theatre Prof. Rives Collins directed the show.

Scott Brown, Reporter

Audiences will have a chance to explore the damaging and complex world of bullying through the eyes of elementary school students as “The Hundred Dresses” premieres Friday at NU’s Theatre and Interpretation Center.

“The Hundred Dresses” is based on a 1944 Newbery Honor-winning book by Eleanor Estes. The musical, which focuses on Wanda Petronski, a young Polish girl at a new school in America, is the first in the 2013-14 Imagine U Family Series. Main character Maddie Reeves struggles with whether she should speak up when Petronski is continually teased by her classmates for wearing the same dress every day, having a funny accent and coming from a poor family.

“This show is not about the one who bullies or the one who is bullied. It is about the girl in the middle who sees it all, initially gets caught up in it and then struggles with what to do or say,” director Rives Collins said. 

Collins, the Northwestern theatre department’s specialist in Theatre and Drama for Youth, said there is a commitment on the part of the center to offer theatre for children.

“I think that young people, specifically children, bring a particular joy and passion and energy into our building that is both really good for the college students, and in return the students can plant seeds of hope, passion and excitement,” he said.

The show explores many facets of bullying, ranging from stereotypical lunch-money-stealing to the more psychological forms it can take.

“My character is bullied, and he’s very aware of the ‘classic’ type of bullying, but he realizes at the end that he’s being just as cruel to Wanda,” said Communication freshman Ryan Martin, who plays a student in the class.

The show also explores the reasons behind why bullies act the way they do.

“(My character) is very self-confident and thinks she’s the best, but she also has her own secrets and pain that she takes out on others,” Communication freshman Maggie Monahan said. “She’s not one-dimensional.”

Cast members have worked to find the deeper complexities behind the young children they are playing, Collins said.

“Ten-year-olds are actually pretty sophisticated, and we are focusing on the emotional truth of the characters,” he said.

Despite the fact that the book was written in 1944, Monahan said the show’s messages remain relevant.

“Bullying has changed with the Internet, but it still takes on that psychological nature,” she said. “Additionally, in schoolyards across the country today, there are kids going through economic struggles at home and coming to America with the same hopes as Wanda.”

Communication freshman Daniel Leahy, who plays another student in the class, hopes children walk away with a message about what to do when they see bullying taking place.

“You should be brave enough to make the decision to help out,” he said. “Allowing something to happen that’s within your control is just as bad as doing the bullying yourself.”

The curtain will rise Friday on “The Hundred Dresses,” with its run lasting through Nov. 10 at the Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis Theater.

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