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LEWISTON – Bullying – from name-calling to cyberbullying – has been recognized as practically a part of daily life for some teens. It can be demoralizing, destructive and sometimes deadly.

The Niagara University Theatre Department will tackle this timely topic on stage this week with its compelling opening season production, “The Secret Life of Girls,” on Thursday through Monday in the Leary Theatre at the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center.

The play, written by Linda Daugherty and directed by adjunct professor Amanda Lytle Sharpe, is based on actual interviews with girls and spotlights the devastation caused by bullying, gossiping, exclusion and name-calling, and highlights the impact of “cyberbullying.” The play looks at teen angst in a way that is both humorous and heartbreaking.

Steven Braddock, who is beginning his third year as the director of the Niagara University Theatre Department, said that he previously ran a theater for young audiences in the Syracuse area and that this play as been on his radar for several years.

“The reasons we needed to do this play were twofold,” he said. “First, bullying is pandemic and really, really is one of most difficult issues we face as parents and teachers. And it’s not just face to face; because of the rise in the use of social networking, bullying has been on Facebook and in texts and computers, and we are seeing more often the ramifications of that bullying.”

He said suicide can be one of those ramifications.

“At the farthest ends of the spectrum, people are committing desperate acts because they are bullied, and they don’t know how to deal with that bullying,” Braddock said.

Both Braddock and Sharpe said they hope a play like “The Secret Life of Girls” will spark conversation between young people and their parents and teachers. Niagara will be presenting three 10 a.m. matinee performances for middle-school children (one of which is already sold out) and six public performances at 7 p.m. Thursday and Monday, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Braddock said the play is not recommended for anyone under age 10, unless they are with a parent, but their audience is everyone.

Sharpe said the play is based around a character named Abby who is new to the volleyball team and focuses on her efforts to fit in.

Sharpe said it shows how easy it is for these characters to be mean when they use electronic devices, rather than face-to-face dialogue.

Cast members, who are all fine-arts majors, include: Amy Mings of Buffalo as Abby; Kaylee LeRoy of Solvay as Stephanie; Brittany Shannon of Watertown as Rebecca; Elena Feliz of Tonawanda as Kayla; Anna Krempholtz of East Aurora as Sutton; Josephine Lazusky of Cochranton, Pa., as Anna Marie; Kendyl Litwiller of Naples as Chandler; Leacel Hillenbrand of Oneida as Sutton’s mother; Karen Harty of Williamsville as Abby’s mother; and Stephanie Wattie of Derby as the coach. Others involved in the production are: Alissa Sumerano of Hurley, set designer; Fabio Del Carlo of Harrison, N.J., stage manager; and Jean O’Harrow of Newfane, assistant stage manager.

Sharpe observed, “It’s made the actors look at each other differently and how they make their choices on a daily basis. Steven and I said, if one person can walk away with a different understanding, whether they need help or whether they need to help someone else – or stop victimizing people, then we’ve done a service, which is a Vincention service and another reason why we follow this and it’s so important for us to do at Niagara, because it follows the idea of educating and teaching.”

In addition, the 50th anniversary season will offer a variety of entertainment options.

Braddock said, “We are extremely honored to dedicate the upcoming 2013-2014 season to our late director emeritus, Brother Augustine Towey, who passed away in November 2012. In honor of Brother Augustine, one of the creative forces behind NU’s theater program for more than 45 years, we will be pulling out all the stops.”

Braddock said a rock musical with a “wicked bite” and a pop-rock score will open on Halloween – off-Broadway’s “Bat Boy: The Musical,” which will continue through Nov. 10. The theater will be bringing back the kind of “big brassy musicals” that Towey favored with Kander and Ebb’s “Curtains” from April 24 to May 4.

In addition to the musicals, there will be Shakespeare’s slapstick “Comedy of Errors” March 20-30 and another witty and fast-moving comedy, “The Philadelphia Story,” Dec. 5 to 15. Two student-produced productions will be offered: The Short Play Festival Jan. 17-25 and “The Shape of Things” Feb. 21-24. Another compelling drama, “A Piece of My Heart,” about six women who went to Vietnam, is co-produced by the Castellani Art Museum and will be presented Feb. 13-16.

Information on productions and tickets for the 2013-2014 Niagara University Theatre Season are at: theatre.niagara.edu/theatre@niagara.edu or by calling the box office at 286-8685.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com