This evening, Mariah’s Music and Arts Studio and Mountain View High School will raise the curtain for the weekend’s début of “It’s Easy!”—a trailblazing musical that brings to the fore a nationwide epidemic of bullying and carries an uplifting, life-changing message of the role that each person can play in its solution.
A voice and piano instructor with decades of teaching and performance experience, Mariah Snow felt called to apply her skills and the talents of her students to address the devastating consequences of bullying. She was familiar with studies that have revealed that as many as a third of middle-and high-school students have been victims of bullying while even more have witnessed it.
Snow’s passion to take on this issue was fueled by personal experience. She explains that her role as a music and voice instructor has extended to also include serving as a mentor, confidante and adult sounding-board for students who are trying to work through troubling situations. In fact, many of the teens fondly refer to the couch in her studio where such discussions typically take place.
Snow explains that, whereas well-tuned guitar strings or piano keys will always produce quality music when struck properly, the voice is a vulnerable instrument that reflects the physical and emotional condition of the singer.
“A lot of times when my kids come in, they go directly to the couch because they can’t possibly sing until they are OK,” she said. “It simply is not possible for them to put themselves into singing a song, and telling a story, and getting a message across when they are not OK themselves.”
As the production shows, the crisis involves not only the bully and bullied but also bystanders, all of whose lives are indelibly impacted by their action or inaction. The story includes many perspectives and scenarios. A girl named Monica (Renee Kauffman) decides to join the ranks of the mean girls led by Zoe (Sarah Pinkstaff), leaving her best friend Stacey (Karoline Colucci) confused and alone. Another student, Ricky (Dalton Gallahan) is the target of continued merciless aggression. Harry (Luke Palotay) is one of the boy bullies, though somewhat reluctantly, and the leader of the crew of bullies is Vinny (Jared Herndon). Jed (Sam Wettergreen) is a witness to the incessant bullying in the school and is torn between taking a stand or laying low.
To help the audience follow the action, Snow has posted titles of Bullied, Bully and Bystander over the pictures of each member of the cast of nearly 40 in the playbill. Yet she stresses that each character is complex, with a spectrum of backstories and motivations.
“Monica and Stacey do a gorgeous duet that shows how they have both been hurt by the experience,” said Snow. “Harry eventually has the courage to report the meanest bully in the school, and it is revealed that the only reason he became a bully is that he lives in a homeless shelter and being part of this clique is a defense to hide his situation. And even the notorious head of the bullies, Vinny, is the product of the way he was raised by his father.”
The show carries an uplifting message that change is possible, showing that words matter, choices matter, and what we say or do can make a difference. With a wise custodian, Mrs. A. (Nylsa Correa), as a guide and with the assistance of her time-travel app, two students are whisked forward 20 years into the future where they can witness the effect that their role in the bullying plague could have on each of their lives and the lives around them. Ricky’s absence from that gathering in the future is hauntingly apparent.
With a new perspective, the students return to the present day to take rightful action and make amends. Snow explains that the meaning of the title of this show transforms in the course of the action.
“In the opening number, the actors show that It’s Easy to turn our heads and look away and It’s Easier to bully than to deal with our own issues,” she said, “But with the reprise of this song at the show’s end, it means It’s Easy to do the right thing. The power is within our control, and doing the right thing generates many positive effects.”
Profits from the show will be donated to the Fine Arts Program of Mountain View High School, whose theater students and faculty are providing the technical support that make this production possible.
The musical’s creators, Jennifer Young and January Akselrad, also launched a nationwide “See the Wish” Project with a motto “Speak Up, Reach Out, Be a Friend,” which delivers letters of peer support to kids recovering from incidents of severe bullying. Mariah and her students have joined in that initiative, sending encouraging letters (and an invitation to attend this production) to a girl in D.C. who was victimized simply because she was small for her age.
“The playwrights made contact with the girl’s family and made a video of her receiving our letters. It was a surprise to her and her response was complete joy and gratitude” said Snow.