Play talks school traumas

DRAMA Playing a role can be more than just acting.


“Dog Sees God” runs at the Fire Hall Theatre on Oct. 11, 12, 18 and 19. Photo courtesy Production Ottawa.

For the past few weeks, I have been lucky enough to be a part of a wonderful group of people. I have spent many hours a day working with them and becoming friends. We are, in a way, family.

When I heard that the Fire Hall Theatre was putting on “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” by Burt V. Royal, I knew I had to try out. I’d read the script after hearing about it from my UND theater friends. The show is a nitty-gritty look at what happens to beloved character Charlie Brown and friends when they hit high school. Not only does it pack laughs, it also touches on many hot topics: bullying, sexuality, love, friendship — the list goes on and on. The director, Dave Kary, planned the opening night around some very significant dates: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month and the eleventh — opening night — is National Coming Out Day.

Needless to say, when I learned I’d been cast as Marcy — Peppermint Patty’s best friend, who always calls Patty “sir”— I was over the moon.

I was Marcy growing up. In high school, I never had a boyfriend, just a string of unrequited love interests. I was not the popular kid, but I tried to align myself with the right people. I was more shy than I’d care to admit, and would often overcompensate, making me appear desperate. Marcy, in the play, is the same way. She is simply trying to survive high school, just as I was.

When I first read Marcy, I didn’t see the resemblance. Where I failed to become popular, Marcy succeeded. But she still has an insecurity about her that I can relate to. Playing her, I have been able to address past issues that were never resolved. I have been able to forgive those who ignored me. I have been able to extinguish a few torches that I’d been carrying far too long. I have, through the work on stage, been able to confront the demons that have haunted me for the past half-decade.

It isn’t just the stage work, either. Something about acting in a play that deals with so many real issues forces actors to become incredibly close to one another. I have never felt this close to a cast before. I don’t have to be silent around them; they value what I say. I can joke around; they laugh. I can turn to them to rant; they listen. They have, in the past month, become some of my most cherished friends. We have worked together to turn this show into something great; our blood, sweat and tears are in it.

At the first rehearsal, we sat down in a circle and talked. We talked about everything: the show, the characters, why we wanted to be in it … eventually, we started learning things about one another.

This cast has been through it all, and some are even still braving the hallways of high school. I have rarely seen such bravery. This show had the potential to open up old wounds for many of us and cause real harm if we weren’t careful. We had to trust each other from the get go, otherwise the show would not be successful. Either we would never be able to connect to our characters or we wouldn’t be able to leave the emotions on stage, causing our personal lives to spiral down the proverbial toilet.

It didn’t help that a couple of the cast members still experience day to day many of the problems the play presents. Goodness knows I still do.

I struggle day to day with a generalized anxiety disorder, as well as a panic attack  disorder and PTSD. I’m not here to tell you my sob story. Life happens, and sometimes it isn’t fun. But, this show forced me to get in touch with the side of myself that I try so hard to ignore. Through Marcy, I have had to re-examine my high school self, the self that saw the beginnings of these disorders. Though I can’t say the show magically cured me, I can say it has helped me deal with my nerves.

I can rarely get truly close to people. I can count on one hand the people who know all my secrets. My walls never, ever come down. I use logic to deflect emotion and keep control; throwing another human into this equation would just throw an unneeded variable at the situation.

Yet, in this show, I had to connect. If I wanted to do justice to a part and to a script that I value so highly, I had to break down a few of my imaginary walls. For what feels like the first time in far too many years, I feel like myself again. It is thanks to the amazing cast and crew — as well as the show itself — of “Dog Sees God.”

If you are interested in seeing “Dog Sees God,” contact the Fire Hall Theatre at 701-746-0847. The show runs Oct. 11,12,18, and 19 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought at the door for $8.

Kjerstine Tooien is a staff writer of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at