Today is Perfect Picture Book Friday. I’m sharing an interview with veteran theater performer, Tim McGarry. Tim is one of the founders of Monkey Baa, Australia’s award-winning theater company dedicated to creating and producing exceptional quality theatre and programs for young people and their families, teachers and communities throughout Australia and internationally. Tim has just completed a successful US tour of Susanna Gervay’s I AM JACK. I was fortunate to connect with him and he graciously agreed to share some of his thoughts about the show, the tour and the important topic of bullying.
First, a bit about the book.
I AM JACK
Written by Susanne Gervay
Illustrated by Cathy Wilcox
Published by Tricycle Press (2009)
Themes: Bullying, friendship
Opening lines: “Mum is talking to Nanna. she said she’d only be a minute. That’s a lie. A minute means an hour in Mum time.”
Synopsis: From School Library Journal – “Despite his lame jokes and his attempts to keep things normal, 11-year-old Jack has a serious bully problem. At first his mother, preoccupied with her job and her boyfriend, seems too busy to have the heart-to-heart talk Jack needs (and too unimaginative to wonder if something’s wrong). Eventually, Jack is ostracized at school, where even “nice guys” can’t afford to be friends any more. When the school is alerted, they respond with an anti-bullying program and support for Jack as he gradually regains his place among the students.”
Why I like this book:
- Written in short sentences, Jack’s first-person narrative makes it easy for kids to read and relate to the story
- There is a clear lesson here about the role of schools in combating bullying, but it does not dominate the story
- Cartoon-like drawings help keep the tone of the story relatively light
- This book will empower kids to speak up about bullying and hopefully step forward if they see a bullying problem
How parents can use this book:
- Great opportunity to talk about bullying – what can a kid do, what can a parent do, what can a teacher do
- Show the book to your child’s teacher – it’s a great resource for schools
Bullying is a widespread problem…it follows each generation…it rears its head in playgrounds and schoolrooms, in bedrooms and in the workplace. It impacts young and old…but children are especially vulnerable. Susanne’s powerful book comes to life on the stage…those who see the show will walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be bullied and why it has to stop…now.
The theater production of I Am Jack is presented by Monkey Baa Theatre Company, directed by Sandra Eldridge and adapted for the stage by Eva Di Cesare, Tim McGarry and Sandra Eldridge. It just finished a successful US tour and I was thrilled to have a chance to ask Tim McGarry, the star of the one-man show, a couple of questions.
Tim, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate your willingness to share some thoughts with us.
Me: How did you come to be involved with I AM JACK?
Tim: I’m one of the founding members of Monkey Baa Theatre Company and therefore very much involved in the process of selecting the works that we choose to adapt for the stage. We had come across Susanne’s book I AM JACK many times. An extraordinary story – but the challenge we felt as a small company, in adapting the work was that it required at least six actors to tell the story and for a small company that was never going to be financially or logistically possible for touring.
About 18 months later, we again considered the work and one of us, Eva Sandie or I, I can’t recall who, came up with the idea of adapting the work as a solo piece for one actor. This would allow the story to be told in multiple locations to a wide audience base – a kind of back to basics theatre, affordable, tour-able and compact. When we approached Susanne with the idea she was delighted – and we then set ourselves the task of developing Jack into a play – an 18 month process.
Me: Have you had personal experience with bullying?
Tim: I went to an all boys Catholic High School in a middle class area of Sydney. Bullying was pretty rife and very much ignored by the hierarchy. I recall one boy in my class being bullied mercilessly. It got to a dangerous situation – he’d arrive at school with dark rings under his friend of mine, Andrew, said to me one day “Can you see what’s happening to David?” I said yes, but there is nothing we can do. Andrew disagreed vigorously and said let’s just bring him into our group of a lunch time. So we did – and slowly but surely the bullying stopped. It was such a courageous act on Andrew’s behalf…
Me: How do you keep energized doing a one-man show and being on tour, especially since the topic is such an emotionally charged one?
Tim: Every day is different. I think my training as an actor has really stood me in good stead – keeping the play fresh and new is always the actor’s greatest challenge in a long run. Always working on a different character…bringing new intentions for different scenes. Interestingly, the other day, a young audience member asked me when I had mastered the role. It kind of took me aback as I consider that I have not yet mastered it. Acting is a craft, and you never really master it – just keep working at it – bit by bit each day – trying to make each moment better than it was yesterday.
I think as an actor working on a solo show, I rely very much on the audience. When you are on stage – whether you are performing to 50 people or 1500 people – each audience is different and their energy and reaction very much feed the pace and the way in which you respond to them and tell the story. I think the main key is telling the story – and every day the story is, in a way, slightly different depending on the way you emphasis and play each moment. Doing a solo work is an exhilarating experience for a performer. I kind of feel all grown up – at long last!
Me: Do you find there is a difference in the reactions of the audiences in depending where you are performing?
Tim: Reactions are always different because an audience will see a story from their perspective and their particular experience. For example, if a school has a particular issue around bullying in their school environment – audiences may be a little bit more prepared and inevitably the talk back session at the end will reflect this experience.
Me: Where does I AM JACK go from here?
Tim: That’s a good question. I will perform in a short season of the piece during book week in Sydney in August. I think I AM JACK has a long life ahead and I suspect it won’t be too long before we look for a new performer to breath new life into the piece both nationally and internationally.
Me: What advice would you give to parents who suspect a bullying problem?
Tim: Talk to your children – see if they will open up to a situation, but don’t push it. If that avenue is not comfortable, I’d go to the school and address the issue directly with the Principal or School Counselor.
Me: Do you have any personal thoughts about how schools should handle bullying?
Tim: Probably not my area of expertise but I would hope schools see this issue as an ongoing challenge that needs constant attention…instilling values of respect, individuality and pride. Compared to when I was at school – I believe schools are far more aware and focused on the issues of bullying and its negative and damaging ramifications, and have great strategies to deal with this challenge.
Young people deserve to feel safe and secure and nurtured – they deserve to thrive!
Thank you so much, Tim. Your insights are very much appreciated. It was kind of you to give me so much of your time.
I know everyone will join me in a huge thank you to Tim McGarry. His thoughts on honing his craft will strike a chord with my fellow writers…the bullying experiences he related and his portrayal of Jack may help parents who find their children in similar situations. The best thing we can do for our children is to let them know we support them and will be there to protect them and that they can depend on us. As Tim says, “Young people deserve to feel safe and secure and nurtured – they deserve to thrive!”
To learn more about Tim, I AM JACK and Monkey Baa Theater Company:
Note to parents and teachers: If you see or suspect a bullying problem:
- Act immediately and Stop it
- Assure the victim you will keep him or her safe
- Find out what is going on
- Get help for the bully – someone is probably bullying him
For picture book reviews, please hop over to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog where you will find many other awesome picture book reviews. AND, if you are an illustrator or an aspiring one, please check out her NEW Illustrator Contest.
AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT TOMORROW
WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
WILL SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT ON
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR CHRIS CHENG
DON’T MISS IT!