#PPBF – Interview with Tim McGarry on I AM JACK and Bullying

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.

 

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I AM JACK

Written by Susanne Gervay

Illustrated by Cathy Wilcox

Published by Tricycle Press (2009)

Ages: 8-12

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.

 

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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. 

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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…  Continue reading