Rob Salerno deliberately defies expectations by presenting his first all-ages show at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival with First Day Back, a story inspired by 15-year old Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley’s suicide in 2011.
In First Day Back, Salerno introduces us to eight students who have gathered the day after ninth grade student Ollie has committed suicide, following years of bullying and abuse. Playing all eight characters, Salerno explores the impact that Ollie’s suicide has on the students.
While Hubley’s suicide is the inspiration for his new play, Salerno is careful to point out that First Day Back is not his story. Instead, Salerno says there were two aspects of Hubley’s story that he found most compelling: the fact he was Canadian and the blogs he created that chronicled his life leading up to his suicide.
“Sometimes we’re complacent in Canada when we can look south of the border and think of how much worse it is for a gay person there than it is here on a more macro, legal level. But we forget that on the micro, regional, or individual level, gay people still have a hard time in many places in Canada, especially gay teenagers in our schools,” explains Salerno.
As Salerno read and watched Hubley’s Tumblr and Youtube blogs he became more human to him, expressing not only his depression, fears and loneliness but also his hopes, dreams and talents.
“Instead of being another statistic, Jamie Hubley really became like a whole person when I read his own words and heard his own voice,” says Salerno.
Drawing on his experiences and people he knew as a teenager, Salerno hopes to show the cycle of bullying that often takes place in high school and to give a balanced view of the bullies.
“Some guys just treat it as the natural order of school life and don’t really consider how other people feel or the consequences of their actions,” says Salerno. “Some use bullying as a defence measure or to help fit in. Some bullies are themselves intensely picked on. I know from my own experience that I was both bullied and sometimes a bully in high school. When we meet the main tormenter, we’ll see his awful, monstrous, bullying side, but you’ll also, I hope, feel compassion for him as well.”
His first all-ages show, Salerno admits that while it had its challenges he did find it refreshing to write with a younger audience in mind and hopes to take the show beyond the Fringe circuit to youth theatre companies and into classrooms.
“Despite the media attention on teen suicides and the increasing number of out and proud gay teens, it’s still difficult for many young people to be openly gay in school. And it’s still true that adults make it difficult for queer youth to express themselves. Look at how inflamed certain parents groups get whenever homosexuality is discussed in schools,” concludes Salerno. “The point is we can’t just shrug these off as extremist views. That complacency leads to the horrible situation that Jamie Hubley found himself in.”
First Day Back
Part of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival
8 – 16 September 2012
Studio 1398, 1398 Cartwright Street, Granville Island
Visit http://www.vancouverfringe.com for exact showtimes and tickets.